First Nations that are waging a court battle to assert their claim to two-thirds of New Brunswick’s lands have extended their challenge to some of the largest corporations in the province.
The six Wolastoqey communities say they want compensation for the years of profits these companies have made from traditional indigenous territory.
“We have chosen these defendants because they are the largest landowners in New Brunswick and have a history of obtaining land from the province without paying a fair price for it,” Chief Patricia Bernard de Matawaskiye said Tuesday.
“That is our land that the province gave for a song. We want to recover what is ours; it was never theirs to give. “
Bernard said the Wolastoqey are seeking compensation from the Crown, not the corporations themselves, for “200 years of theft of land and resources authorized and supervised by the New Brunswick government.”
Almost a year ago, the six communities filed a property title lawsuit against the federal and provincial governments, asking the courts to uphold Aboriginal title to more than five million hectares of land originally occupied by the Wolastoqey.
The land claimed by Wolastoqey encompasses most of New Brunswick’s southern and western borders, following the northern border of Quebec from Edmundston before plunging south down a winding road to cross the southeast coast of the province near Fundy National Park. .
The Wolastoqey hold that the land is undelivered and undelivered territory.
Tuesday morning’s announcement amended that original statement to name major corporations, including JD Irving, NB Power, Acadian Timber, Twin Rivers Paper, HJ Crabbe and Sons, and AV Group, mostly pulp and forestry companies, such as demanded together with the two levels of government.
The named companies, Wolastoqey said, operate in about 20 percent of the area (997,950 hectares) over which communities seek titles.
In the event of a ruling in their favor, the Wolastoqey said, they would allow forestry to continue on those claimed lands, provided those corporations had an agreement with the nation about activities on the land.
Bernard reiterated that the title claim pursuit will not affect New Brunswick residents, saying they paid the Crown fair market value for the land, even though the Crown never compensated the Wolastoqey for the same.
“The Wolastoqey Nation does not want to displace you from your homes. The only private owners that we are trying to get our land back from are these six, ”Bernard said, naming the six corporations included in the claim.
The chiefs of Matawaskiye (Madawaska Maliseet First Nation), Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation), Wotstak (Woodstock First Nation), Pilick (Kingsclear First Nation), Sitansisk (Saint Mary First Nation) and Welamukotuk (Oromocto First Nation) made the announcement. of changes to the title claim during a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
Bernard reiterated that they continue to pursue the declaration of Aboriginal title as stated in the original claim.
“We want this confirmation of the ownership of the lands in which our ancestors have lived and protected since time immemorial, so that there can no longer be any doubt or denial of our rights to our lands, water and our resources,” he said. .
The Wolastoqey acknowledged that they expect the claim to be in court for at least a decade, but said their children and grandchildren would see its benefits.
JD Irving officials did not respond to requests for comment.
In Fredericton, New Brunswick Prime Minister Blaine Higgs said he was not aware of the new court filing and did not yet know the details, but that he intended to meet with Wolastoqey bosses before the end of the year.
“I think for a long time we have been wondering who is responsible for what and what are the obligations,” he said.
“If we are to achieve truth and reconciliation on all issues, we must understand exactly what our obligations are and make sure we fulfill them. It seems that it will only be achieved through a legal process ”.
In October, the province ordered government employees to stop issuing public land acknowledgments that refer to undisclosed land. It is common across Canada for politicians and others to start events by declaring that they are standing in the undisclosed territories of various indigenous peoples.
Provincial Attorney General Hugh Flemming said the directive was in response to the original complaint filed by the Wolastoqey communities.