Shale gas development spurs treaty debate in N.B.
Ken Coates and T.J. Burke agree the provincial government needs a modern treaty with First Nations
Aboriginal rights lawyer T.J. Burke says a move by the Elsipogtog First Nation's chief and council to reclaim its traditional territory currently held by the New Brunswick government as Crown land shouldn't come as a surprise to the Alward government.
On Tuesday, Chief Arren Sock issued an eviction notice to SWN Resources Canada as protesters continued to block Route 134 near Rexton to prevent the company from moving its exploration equipment.
When you push a group of oppressed people into a corner, a little bit further into the corner, they're going to stand up and speak out and they don't just stand up and speak out individually they stand up and speak out united.- T.J. Burke, lawyer representing Elsipogtog First Nation
Sock says for centuries the British Crown claimed to be holding the land in trust for his people, but since the land is being badly mismanaged First Nations people are taking it back.
Burke represents the Elsipogtog First Nation and says members of the band are being encouraged to exercise their inherent aboriginal and treaty rights, which means occupying land that is within their traditional boundaries.
"I don't think anybody from the community is going to go downtown Moncton or Richibucto or the outlying boundaries of Elsipogtog First Nation and say get out of your house this is Mi'kmaq territory," says Burke.
Ken Coates, a public policy professor at the University of Saskatchewan and the author of The Marshall Decision and Native Rights, says Sock's dramatic statement shows First Nations people in New Brunswick are becoming increasingly frustrated with the absence of a formal treaty in the province and the Maritimes.
"So I think what you're seeing is the past coming back to haunt the government of Canada and the Province of New Brunswick where the failure to resolve these issues in the past have left them open to interpretation and application in the present."
Burke also acknowledges the long-standing dispute.
"Largely in the province of New Brunswick there has never been any ceding of Crown land to the British Crown by the Mi'kmaq or Maliseet people."
Modern treaty overdue in NB
Burke warns that the province is going to have to respond and says the Alward government cannot continue to ignore the fact that members of the Elsipogtog First Nation object to the exploration for shale gas.
"When you push a group of oppressed people into a corner, a little bit further into the corner, they're going to stand up and speak out and they don't just stand up and speak out individually they stand up and speak out united."
"What they're basically saying is if you guys keep developing these lands in the absence of a treaty, in the absence of a formal agreement you're basically taking the value out of those lands before we have a chance to get any claim to them."
Coates doesn't believe First Nations people want to stop development completely. Rather he says they want it stopped until there is a measure of environmental control and a negotiated financial return.
"They're tired of being left economically marginalized and without the opportunity to participate and they want the land and resources necessary to create a positive, constructive future for themselves and it seems to me to be a perfectly rational and reasonable argument and one that's overdue," said Coates.