Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq say they are allies in land rights despite overlapping title claims
As several Indigenous nations of eastern Canada make overlapping claims to their traditional lands, they say the biggest obstacle will not be how to deal with each other, but with the New Brunswick government.
Last week, Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc. (MTI), a Mi’kmaw rights collective in New Brunswick, released a map of its territory, covering most of the province and dealing with territory claimed by the Wolastoqey Nation overlap.
Chief Patricia Bernard of Madawaska Maliseet First Nation, part of the Wolastoqey Nation, said the maps show the two groups shared some lands and that hard borders were a colonial concept.
“We are partners. We are allies in this. Our biggest challenge is getting the province to recognize that,” she said.
She said the groups had already had two meetings and the discussions would result in a wampum agreement.
“These are things that we will work out. It’s all done in a friendly way and it’s a process to do it,” said Bernard.
Hugh Akagi, chief of the Peskotomukati nation in Skutik, near St Andrews, NB, said he needed to take the time to review the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik title claims. He added that pursuing title claims in Canada’s court system is like demanding sovereignty from your oppressor.
“I think the first thing we need to do is remove the Oppressor from the conversation and that means his law and his rules,” Akagi said.
He said he was keen to maintain good relations with the other indigenous groups but preferred not to involve governments in these discussions.
Aboriginal title is the legal right of indigenous peoples to their traditional lands. Both the Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq say that these rights were not wiped out when they signed the Peace and Friendship Treaties in the 17th century.
The Province of New Brunswick emailed that the entire province was being claimed by various Indigenous groups and had received notification of the claim from MTI.
“The province will address the Mi’gmaq position in due course and as part of that process must consider how this implies the current Wolastoqey claim to land in the Mi’gmaq map area,” said province spokesman David Kelly.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said a tripartite framework was signed with MTI, the Canadian government and the Province of New Brunswick in 2017, setting out priority discussions including Aboriginal title.
Discussions are under way for the title with the Elsipogtog First Nation and the Peskotomuhkati Nation in Skutik, while the Wolastoqey Nation is seeking the title in court.
“Consistent with the principle of self-determination, matters involving overlapping claims or assertions of Aboriginal rights and titles by neighboring nations are best addressed through inter-nation discussions,” Randy Legault-Rankin, a spokesman for CIRNAC, said per E-mail.
Building on Elsipogtog claim
The Elsipogtog First Nation applied for the Aboriginal title in 2016, claiming the traditional Mi’kmaw territory of Siknikt on behalf of the Mi’kmaw Nation.
In 2019, the community signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Canada. Elsipogtog’s attorney, Bruce McIvor, said talks were going well between all parties except the provincial government.
“The province has so far refused to come to the table and engage in meaningful discussion,” said McIvor, a partner at First Peoples Law.
McIvor said his clients and MTI share a common goal of securing the title for the entire Mi’kmaw Nation and that the map “builds on the good work that Elsipogtog has done on this.”
“It doesn’t go as far as Elsipogtog did in filing a title claim in 2016, but it is consistent with the title claim that was filed and it’s good to see MTI taking a more confident position on these important issues,” said McIvor.
Eel Ground First Nation Chief George Ginnish said the map was released to bring the province to the table. MTI represents its community and seven others in the title discussions.
Ginnish said he hopes the title claims could bring economic stability to the nine Mi’kmaw communities.
“How do we make life good, especially for our children, so that they feel the world is a good place, that there are opportunities for them? You know, that’s what we want to do,” Ginnish said.
He said all indigenous groups are working together on the file, but it could take some time before land borders are settled.