The six chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation are dismayed by Monday’s Telegraph-Journal editorial, which clearly aligns the Irving-owned newspaper with the Higgs government’s misguided attacks.
A title claim was launched in the courts last year by Wolastoqey Nations, and the province of New Brunswick is named in the suit.
Until last month, the government had been taking a conventional approach by refraining from commenting on the Wolastoqey title claim currently before the courts.
That changed after the province’s attorney general, Ted Flemming, slapped a gag order on all public servants, ordering them to stop conventional acknowledgements of unceded and unsurrendered land.
Now the Irving-owned opinion section is waging the same attack, in clear lockstep with the Higgs government.
The editorial – reprinted in publications across the Irving-owned newspaper chain – urges Flemming to ignore what is “politically fashionable” on the issue.
That language resembles the confrontational and disrespectful approach of the Higgs government on matters of social justice.
It begs the question: Does the editorial board also consider the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements matters of political ‘fashion’ unworthy of our government’s attention and concern?
It is apparent from recent history that the premier shares that close-minded view.
We have also noticed the silence of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn and Dr. Manju Varma, the Higgs-appointed commissioner of systemic racism. Neither has been heard from on this critical issue.
While national media headlines paint New Brunswick as a laggard in addressing systemic racism and improving Indigenous relations, the Irving-owned press has released a string of pro- government commentaries on the topic.
Before Monday’s editorial came a front-page column on the title case, penned by the same editorial writer, and a column where the attorney general himself lays out his mistaken argument.
New Brunswickers, however, resoundingly saw the Flemming gag order for what it is: ill- conceived legal advice that should have been tossed in the waste bin seconds after it was presented to the premier’s office.
They understand the historical fact of unceded title in the province of New Brunswick, and they trust our clear indication to the Crown that the Wolastoqey title claim is not looking to displace homeowners in New Brunswick.
We appreciate the Irving empire’s economic role in New Brunswick, but its influence must not extend into the premier’s office.
Flemming’s memo has seen dissent from legal scholars, Indigenous leaders, the New Brunswick Women’s Council, opposition parties, professional associations, farmers, labour unions, the New Brunswick RCMP and even two members of Higgs’ own cabinet.
It’s those opinions Premier Higgs should be concerned with if he is committed to restoring New Brunswick’s reputation on a global scale, and using it to attract immigration and investment that will help balance the province’s books and move us to economic independence.
In practice, however, this government’s failure to engage in meaningful dialogue with First Nations leaves an ugly stain that will repel the sort of multinational corporations who understand the role of Indigenous relations in corporate social responsibility.
If the premier is concerned about how this province is perceived beyond its borders, he will order his attorney general to retract and apologize for the disrespect and ignorance communicated through the memo.
And in future, Premier Higgs should think carefully before taking advice from the Irving-owned editorial board of Brunswick News.
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