New Brunswick

Trudeau calls for talks, not court fight, on Wolastoqey claim

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has struck a dramatically different tone than Premier Blaine Higgs on the land title claim filed by six Wolastoqey chiefs in New Brunswick. 

Prime minister's words contrast with position taken by Premier Blaine Higgs

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about the Wolastoqey claim during a news conference Monday about a child-care deal with New Brunswick. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has struck a dramatically different tone than Premier Blaine Higgs on the land title claim filed by six Wolastoqey chiefs in New Brunswick. 

Trudeau said Monday he'd rather see the issue resolved through negotiations than through a lengthy legal battle.

"Ideally, reconciliation isn't something that happens in the courts," he said. "It happens when we sit down nation to nation with Indigenous leadership and communities and try and solve problems that in some cases go back centuries."

Premier Blaine Higgs said last month that taking the case to court was the only way to resolve the land and title claim issues. (Government of New Brunswick)

Those comments stood in sharp contrast to Higgs, who said last month that taking the case to court was the only way to resolve what the province's and the nation's obligations are.

"In this situation the legal route is necessary," he said Nov. 30, given his government's disagreement with the Wolsatoqey over the interpretation of the 18th-century Peace and Friendship Treaties and other elements of Aboriginal rights.

"It seems that that's only going to be accomplished through a legal process." 

The Wolastoqey claim for title to their traditional territories names the province, the federal government and six large industrial companies as defendants.

The area in question covers 60 per cent of the province's land mass, though the chiefs say in their filing that they do not seek control over private property other than the industrial lands listed in the case.

The chiefs estimate that it could take a decade or more before there's a ruling in the case.

Trudeau was asked during a news conference with Higgs on an early-learning and child-care agreement what Ottawa's obligations are in the case and whether his government would try to settle it out of court. 

"It's never going to be easy, but I also know that these challenges can be solved by working together in respect and partnership," Trudeau said.

"That is certainly the approach we have taken on reconciliation."

A map of the sections of New Brunswick involved in the claim. (Submitted by Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick)

He said his two ministers who handle Indigenous issues "will continue to engage with this community and others as we look for the right path forward."

When Higgs cancelled gas-tax sharing agreements with First Nations in April, he called on chiefs to negotiate "a modern and sustainable economic partnership."

At the time, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn suggested this could include "existing best practice models" from other provinces for sharing forestry and mining revenue.

But she acknowledged she had not spoken to any of the major forestry companies about the idea. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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