The RCMP has arrested 21 people at various anti-shale gas protests in Kent County in the last two weeks. (CBC)

First Nations chiefs are calling on the provincial government and mining companies start talks with them to discuss natural resource development opportunities in New Brunswick.

The Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in New Brunswick issued a statement on Tuesday night that also criticized companies and governments that refused to work with them, as well as protesters from outside their communities.

"We will not work with irresponsible companies and governments," the statement said.

"Government and industry must come forward now and sit down with us to find sensible and acceptable solutions to these immense problems. If the [Mi’kmaq] and Wolastoqiyik peoples do not benefit we will use all legal means to prevent resource development."

A new report from the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives says half of status First Nations children in Canada live in poverty.

SWN Resources Canada started seismic testing in Kent County earlier in June. The company is trying to determine if there are enough gas deposits in the area to make a shale gas industry viable.

But the company has been met by protests. The RCMP has arrested at least 21 people during the protests.

The chiefs say they are concerned about the "depth of poverty" that is prevalent in many First Nations communities and they hope natural resource development could help alleviate it.

"We will protect our rights and the environment as we move ahead but we must help our people immediately. We cannot agree with those who want our people to remain in poverty or those from outside our communities who do not have to live with the consequences of their rhetoric," the Assembly of First Nations' Chiefs statement said.

First Nations are being consulted, Leonard says

Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard said he has been working with First Nations on the shale gas file for the past six months.

He said he understands it is important to reach out to all groups to discuss the provincial government’s policy on shale gas development.

"We understand that there's a group of people out there that do not want development of, whether it's oil or gas, to take place in this province and we understand that," Leonard said.

"But the reality is that the majority of New Brunswickers do see the potential for this industry and have voiced the opinion that, ‘Let's at least find out what the true potential is.’ And so we understand that as [we are] moving forward on natural resource development files there’s the general public, but there's also a very critical role that First Nations play."

The energy minister also dismissed criticism the provincial government has not listened to the views of citizens on the contentious issue of shale gas.

He said there have been 75 separate meetings with groups, including the meetings held by Louis LaPierre, a University of Moncton biology professor, who was hired to solicit opinions on the provincial government’s oil and gas rules.

The energy minister said government officials also take the time to meet with shale gas opponents.

"There's been many protests. Many of the same people attend these protests and we as government have always taken the time to talk with them during those periods," he said.

The New Brunswick government has repeatedly indicated that companies should be able to conduct tests to see if there is a viable shale gas industry in the province.

The Alward government brought in new rules that govern the oil and gas industry this year that it claims to be among the strictest in North America.

Many protesters are concerned the seismic testing will eventually lead to the contentious hydraulic fracturing process to extract the shale gas.

Hydro-fracking is a process where exploration companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped

Opponents are concerned the process will ruin the water supply.