Elsipogtog First Nation asks for Aboriginal title to one-third of province
Recognition would give Aboriginal people input in decisions about land use
Elsipogtog First Nation filed a major land claim Wednesday, asking the New Brunswick government for Aboriginal title to land covering about one-third of the province.
The land, known as the Mi'kmaq district of Siknuktuk, essentially encompasses the entire southeastern part of New Brunswick.
Members of the First Nation government based in Kent County said the claim was filed on behalf of all Mi'kmaq people in New Brunswick and was motivated by fears of shale gas exploration three years ago, and the clashes that ensued between protesters and police in Rexton. More than 40 people were arrested during the protests.
"This land means everything to me," Arren Sock, chief of Elsipogtog First Nation, said Wednesday as community members gathered. "This land means everything to my community. This land means everything to the surrounding areas. It's everything. Plain and simple."
Many of the Aboriginal people at the community meeting Wednesday spoke of their attachment to the land.
"It's not only physical," said Alma Brooks. "It is biological, and it is spiritual. Never before have so few taken so much, from so many, for so long."
If Aboriginal title were granted, it would have major implications for the province's natural resource industries. It would give partial authority over this vast part of New Brunswick back to Aboriginal people.
While not a deal seeking compensation, Aboriginal people would have a right to profit from the land.
Lawyer Bruce McIvor, who filed the claim on behalf of the First Nation, said the notion of Aboriginal title is historic — only once before in Canada has it been granted, and that happened in British Columbia. The B.C. claim wound up in the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled 8-0 in favour.
"The constitutional legal obligations now on the government are much more significant," McIvor said. "Legally, they will have to engage in discussion with the Mi'kmaq about all decisions that affect Aboriginal title."
McIvor said this was only the start of a very long and costly endeavour.
Once the province receives the claim, it will have a few weeks to formulate a response. Then it could be years before the case is resolved, he said.