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Council of Canadians supports Aboriginal title challenge in New Brunswick

The Council of Canadians is pleased to be working with the IMW Peace and Friendship Legal Fund. IMW is the short form of Iapjiw Maliaptasiktitiew Wskwitqamu, translated in English as ‘Protecting the Earth For Future Generations’. This fund is supporting a court challenge to protect Mi’kmaq territory in New Brunswick from further environmental destruction. The IMW court challenge is being supported by the Chief and Council of the Elsipogtog First Nation and the Mi’kmaq Grand Council for Signigtog District.

Mi’kma’ki is another way of looking at Maritime Canada, subdivided into seven distinct districts that extend from Cape Breton to the Gaspe, and overlapping several Canadian provincial borders. The IMW Legal Action ​originates from the sixth of the original seven Mi’kma’ki districts: Signigtog District. This district extends from the marshy region that connects present-day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on the east, the Bay of Fundy at the south, and along the coast up to the Miramichi River at the north.

The Mi’kmaq Peoples surrendered no land or resources in the pre-Confederation Peace and Friendship Treaties that were signed and re-ratified throughout the 1700’s. Mi’kmaq lawyer, professor and activist Pam Palmater has stated, “The Maritimes are all unceded territory. The Mikmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy didn’t give up a single inch of territory.”

In 2013, the resistance of the Signigtog Mi’kmaq, together with organized Acadian and Anglophone New Brunswickers and many other allies, brought to a standstill government-supported exploration for shale gas by SWN Resources Canada in the area of the Elsipogtog First Nation. In addition to fracking, the Mi’kmaq are also concerned about increased logging, mining and the Energy East pipeline. Mi’kmaq elders and water protectors of the Signigtog District have become convinced that the only way to curb this environmentally destructive agenda is to assert and defend Aboriginal title and rights.

The IMW case will be based in part on the Supreme Court of Canada’s Tsilhqot’in decision. Bruce McIvor, the lawyer for the IMW challenge, has commented, “For Indigenous people with pre-Confederation treaties [such as the peace-and-friendship treaties in the Maritimes] the implications [of that decision] are obvious. Their claims to Aboriginal title can now be pursued with renewed confidence. …When Indigenous people succeed in confirming their Aboriginal title a province will not simply be able to apply their laws through box-ticking consultation. They will be subject to the much more onerous burden of obtaining consent or justifying infringements…”

The Signigtog Mi’kmaq have already reclaimed stewardship of their land. In a September 2013 statement, they said, “The lands of the Signigtog Mi’kmaq have never been ceded or sold; for centuries, the British Crown claimed to be holding the lands in trust for them. However, the Original people of the territory, together with their ​hereditary and elected leaders, believe that their lands and waters are being badly mismanaged by Canada, the province and corporations to the point of ruin.”

While the recently elected provincial government in New Brunswick has now implemented a moratorium on fracking, it also says that five conditions must be met for fracking to occur. One of those conditions is a process to “consult” with First Nations. But Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren James Sock has said, “The only way to properly caretake the Signigtog Mi’kmaki territory is to establish clarity and certainty on title. …This fund will be used to mount the appropriate court challenge.”

To learn more about this struggle, please attend an upcoming “Resistance & Survival: Report from the Eastern Door” public forum in Toronto (January 5), Peterborough (January 7), Ottawa (January 8), and Montreal (January 9). For more details on those forums, please click here. The Peterborough meeting is being co-sponsored by the Peterborough-Kawarthas chapter of the Council of Canadians, while the Ottawa forum is being sponsored by the Council of Canadians national office.

Further reading
Council of Canadians supports Aboriginal title in Supreme Court intervener submission (November 2013 media release)
Standing in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples (Autumn 2014 Canadian Perspectives article)