Ottawa to begin talks with Mi'kmaq First Nation about Aboriginal title in New Brunswick
Elsipogtog First Nation filed claim in 2016 to Aboriginal title that would cover a third of the province
The federal government and Elsipogtog First Nation have signed a memorandum of understanding that will launch discussions about the Mi'kmaq claim of Aboriginal title to a third of New Brunswick.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock announced the step Thursday at the First Nation about 90 kilometres north of Moncton, in eastern New Brunswick.
"We know we've got a lot of work to do to rebuild that trust," Bennett said.
In 2016, Elsipogtog filed a claim for Aboriginal title to a part of the province the Mi'kmaq call Sikniktuk, which essentially encompasses the entire southeastern part of New Brunswick.
If granted, that title would give the Mi'kmaq more say in the area's natural resources.
Elsipogtog and the government will now explore entering into negotiations for the recognition of Mi'kmaq title, rights and treaty rights, and the protection and management of the environment and natural resources in Sikniktuk, said the announcement.
"We have to work together in collaboration, and that brings us here today," Sock said at the announcement. "We must negotiate or come to some understanding."
Both sides said it's the first step toward self-determination, but the chief still shared doubts about the government following through.
Holding a hatchet, Sock said the "symbol of fighting" is buried once the fighting is over.
"Today, we're not going to bury it because we're still unsure if Canada will hold true to their word, but it's a beginning," he said.
Elsipogtog members have said the title claim was filed on behalf of all Mi'kmaq people in New Brunswick, and was motivated by fears of shale gas exploration clashes like the one that ensued between protesters and police in Rexton, near Elsipogtog, in October 2013. More than 40 people were arrested during the protests.
"We as a people decided 'no,'" Sock said.
"That's when we said that's enough. We're Mi'kmaq. We're a people. This our late nation. This is our land, and we decide what happens to it."
Bennett said the memorandum shows the federal government's commitment to working with the First Nation to solve "outstanding issues," close economic gaps and and advance reconciliation.
The minister said the move is ultimately about future generations and ensuring they do not endure the "trauma and damage" inflicted through colonization.
With files from Tori Weldon