Canada's adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will help First Nations fight against the Energy East pipeline, according to some New Brunswick Aboriginal leaders.
Ron Tremblay, Grand Chief of the Wolastoq Grand Council, is at the United Nations this week in New York. He believes the declaration will give Aboriginal communities veto power over contentious resource projects including the pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Alberta to New Brunswick.
"I'm very confident that by the Liberal federal government supporting the declaration ... that we will have the opportunity to say no," said Tremblay.
The Grand Council, which says the homeland of the Wolastoqewiyik takes in all of New Brunswick as well as parts of Maine and Quebec, came out in opposition of the pipeline earlier this year.
- Canada officially adopts UN declaration on rights of Indigenous Peoples
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett officially removed Canada's objector status to the UN declaration on Tuesday.
The declaration recognizes Indigenous Peoples' basic human rights, as well as rights to self-determination, language, equality and land, among others. It states Aboriginal people cannot be forcibly removed from land they have traditionally owned or used without "free, prior and informed consent."
The UN document isn't legally binding, but Bennett said the government intends to implement it in accordance with the Constitution.
'We will have the opportunity to say no.' - Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay
Tremblay travelled to New York City with Hugh Akagi, Chief of the Passamaquoddy people in St. Andrews, to observe the UN proceedings. Under the Indian Act, the Passamaquoddy does not have official First Nation status.
"[The declaration] is a mechanism or tool to have on our side, it definitely gives us a voice where we've been ignored," said Akagi.
Darrell Paul, Executive Director of the Union of New Brunswick Indians, agrees that support for the UN declaration will bolster First Nations' ability to say no to resource projects.
"I think it will help a great deal, it will support the position that Aboriginal title does exist in New Brunswick," said Paul.
'Equivalent of a veto'
If the government follows through on its plan to enforce the UN declaration through law, it's clear that Indigenous communities would have the power to halt resource projects, according to Larry Chartrand, law professor at the University of Ottawa.
"If they don't want to go along with the project at the end of the day they can say no and that's the equivalent of a veto," said Chartrand.
Pam Palmater, associate professor and Chair in Indigenous governance at Ryerson University, says First Nations in Atlantic Canada already live on unceded lands and have the power to say no to resource projects.
"We have always had a veto, but Canada and the provinces have violated our rights for so long, they forget their own laws," Palmater said in an email to CBC News.
The former Conservative government did not fully support the declaration because of the prospect of First Nations having veto power.
But Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde has disputed the notion, pointing out in 2015 at the Indigenous rights forum at the UN that the term veto is not used in the declaration and such a power would not lead to the balancing of rights.
Uncertain about next steps
Akagi has been attending the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the last five years.
He used to make the trip to keep an eye on the government, but this year says he was proud to watch Canada change its stance.
Even so, he's still uncertain about whether the Trudeau government will actually implement the declaration.
"I'm really hoping this is the real deal, but I'm 70 years old," said Akagi. "I've seen so many things derailed by money and I'm afraid we haven't put that in the equation yet."
According to TransCanada, the Energy East pipeline would generate $55 billion for Canada by 2040.
The National Energy Board's consultations on the pipeline along the proposed route begin in August.
The national energy regulator expects to release its final report on the project by March 2018.