The Elsipogtog First Nation and the federal government have signed a memorandum of understanding that will begin discussions about the Mi’kmaq claim of Aboriginal title to a third of New Brunswick.
Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, and Chief Arren Sock made the announcement Thursday at Elsipogtog First Nation, which is about 90 kilometres north of Moncton.
“This memorandum confirms the commitment of both Elsipogtog First Nation and Canada to establish a table to address the issues raised as part of our claim and discuss how we can achieve reconciliation in a manner that recognizes and respects our title and rights,” Chief Sock said in a statement.
Ottawa hopes the agreement will allow for the advancement of reconciliation and renew their relationship based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
“This signing demonstrates our commitment to working as partners to find solutions that will help close socio-economic gaps and advance reconciliation for the benefit of community members and all Canadians,” Bennet said in a statement.
The Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq First Nation filed the Aboriginal title claim in 2016.
The claim was made on behalf of the entire Mi’kmaq First Nation, and asks the court to confirm they hold the rights to the large portion of the province.
“We want to negotiate, we don’t want to go to court; it’s still an open claim and that has yet to be discussed,” Sock told reporters after the MOU was signed.
“Again, it’s just the beginning of a new relationship and we’re going to be negotiating in the future as to how that’s going to look.”
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Kenneth Francis, a member of Kopit Lodge, a group formed to stop fracking in Kent County, says their priority is to protect the land and water.
“Everything that we do, everything that stems from what we do comes from that,” Francis said.
But Bennett made it clear, the signing of the document simply means they’re trying to move forward together.
“The work we will do together is not giving you anything, it is acknowledging and affirming your inherent rights,” she said to the audience and Elsipogtog leaders.
In Fredericton, New Brunswick’s aboriginal affairs minister Jake Stewart told reporters it would be better if the province was also involved as part of a “tripartite” deal.
“We’ve not been in formal discussions with (Elsipogtog) or the federal government since October, but Chief Sock, Chief Arren did send me a request to be a part of the MOU on April 25th.”
He said he’s told the premier about the request, and they will explore their possible involvement.
Minister Bennett said the two sides will have to sit down and hold meetings together.
The MOU wasn’t provided to media, so it’s not clear what it specifically entails.
With files from Callum Smith
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