The six Wolastoqey communities in New Brunswick today filed a new version of their title claim in New Brunswick’s Court of Queen’s Bench, focusing on major industrial corporations that occupy its traditional lands.
Some of the largest industrial corporations across what is known as the Province of New Brunswick are named as defendants, including J.D. Irving, Limited and 18 of its subsidiaries or related entities; NB Power; Acadian Timber; Twin Rivers Paper; HJ Crabbe & Sons; and A.V. Group.
These companies operate on about 20 percent of the more than five million hectares identified in the claim as the traditional lands of the Wolastoqey in New Brunswick.
The corporations are named in addition to the governments of New Brunswick and Canada, which hold another 41 per cent of the land included in the claim. These lands were occupied since time immemorial by the Wolastoqey people, who, in addition to traditional, cultural, and spiritual practices on the land, have used it to sustainably hunt, fish, harvest and trade.
The new claim was announced Tuesday by the chiefs of all six Wolastoqey communities: Matawaskiye (Madawaska Maliseet First Nation); Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation); Wotstak (Woodstock First Nation); Pilick (Kingsclear First Nation); Sitansisk (Saint Mary’s First Nation) and Welamukotuk (Oromocto First Nation) during a virtual press conference.
“Today is about addressing 200 years of land and resource theft authorized and overseen by the New Brunswick Government. Instead of protecting the rightful holders of the land, the provincial government lets corporations run amuck on it,” said Chief Patricia Bernard of Matawaskiye.
The claim reaffirms assurances the chiefs of all six Wolastoquey communities have provided to New Brunswickers: litigation asking the court to confirm Aboriginal title on the traditional lands described by the attached map does not seek to displace regular New Brunswickers from their homes and farms.
It specifically names major forestry corporations, who are the registered owners of land handed over by the Crown either for free or at a very discounted rate.
From these defendants, the Wolastoqey Nation is seeking a declaration of Aboriginal title to their traditional lands along with compensation from the Crown for allowing commercial operations on their traditional land, including through profit-driven resource extraction businesses.
“It has never been in the public interest to give away land for free to large corporations,” said Chief Ross Perley of Neqotkuk.
A ruling in favour of the Wolastoqey would allow forestry to continue, as long as corporations had an agreement with the Nation over activities on their land.
“Let me speak directly to regular New Brunswickers: The Wolastoqey Nation has never had an interest in evicting regular New Brunswickers from their homes or their farms – we know that you or your forebears paid value for your land,” Pilick Chief Gabriel Atwin said.
Between 1725 and 1778, the Wolastoqey Nation negotiated and entered into treaties with the Crown, known as the Peace and Friendship Treaties.
The Wolastoqey never ceded ownership of their lands, and those treaties explicitly recognized that if settlers were to live on Wolastoqey lands, they needed to follow the legal process for settling on these lands.
The Crown broke its word and failed to live up to those treaties in the intervening decades, pushing the Wolastoqey people into six small communities along the river.
“The provincial government’s rejection of a key principle in the Peace and Friendship Treaties – that New Brunswick sits on unceded and unsurrendered territory – is a clear demonstration of why this court process is necessary,” said Chief Tim Paul of Wotstak.
The Crown carved up Wolastoqey land and gave it to private landowners, keeping for themselves all benefits in the form of taxes, royalties, leases and fees.
“We’ve identified these lands, and these corporations, because they did not pay fair value for land that remains rightfully ours,” said Chief Shelley Sabattis of Welamukotuk.
“This summer, New Brunswickers saw their government’s unwillingness to seek fair market value from forestry companies getting rich off a booming world market,” Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of Sitansisk added.
Like most New Brunswickers, the Wolastoqey are deeply concerned that reckless resource extraction through profit-driven activities like forestry has left our rivers, forests, and lakes on the brink of decimation.