NB First Nations Group Vows to Veto Pipeline Project

imagearticle by Chris Morris, Telegraph Journal

“That puts the Wolastoq people in a very powerful position with respect to what happens on that land. … There will have to be direct discussions between the government of Canada, the government of New Brunswick and the First Nations communities up and down the river.” – David Coon

First, it was Montreal-area mayors, now a group representing Maliseet people in New Brunswick has come out firmly against the proposed Energy East pipeline, vowing to stop it from crossing unceded, aboriginal lands in the province.

Members of the Wolastoq Grand Council held a news conference in Fredericton on Monday saying that as far as they’re concerned, they have the right to veto a pipeline through their traditional territory, including the St. John River Valley.

“We are not allowing the pipeline to come through our homeland,” said Wolastoq grandmother Hart Perley from Tobique. “It is not going to happen.”

The Maliseet and Mi’kmaq peoples signed peace and friendship treaties with the British Crown but never ceded their traditional lands, which represent most of the province.

Nicole O’Byrne, an expert in aboriginal constitutional law at the University of New Brunswick, said the fact that First Nations people in New Brunswick did not cede title sets them apart from most other indigenous groups in Canada and makes them potentially powerful players when it comes to access to land issues.

“Because there are no treaties in the Maritimes that deal with land interests per se, the First Nations still enjoy a legal interest in the land – this is called unextinguished Aboriginal title,” O’Byrne said Monday.

“Therefore, the First Nations still enjoy a property interest in the land.”

Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay told the news conference that the traditional Maliseet communities will never accept a pipeline, no matter what changes or accommodations might be offered.

“There is zero possibility,” of ever accepting the pipeline, Tremblay said.

He and other participants at the news conference, including several clan mothers from Maliseet communities, said they would never compromise their beliefs, even if they were offered large amounts of money.

“Our values are connected spiritually to the land, water and air and we follow the original instructions from the great mystery to protect and preserve our homeland,” Tremblay said.

The Wolastoq council’s hard-line position is the latest hurdle to the proposed $15.7 billion pipeline to bring Alberta crude to New Brunswick for transport to world markets. Last month, a group of Montreal-area mayors came out against the west-east project, arguing the environmental risks associated with it far outweigh the economic benefits.

Energy Minister Don Arseneault said in a statement that the concerns of aboriginal people will be heard in the regulatory process for the pipeline project.

“The Wolastoq Grand Council has been granted intervenor status and will have the opportunity to share their concerns with the National Energy Board as part of the review process,” Arseneault said Monday.

“The Government of New Brunswick, through the Department of Environment and Local Government, has applied for this status as well. As a government, we look forward to working with all stakeholders involved to see the pipeline developed in an environmentally responsible manner to create jobs and grow the economy.”

The courts have made it clear that governments in Canada have a duty to consult with First Nations on projects that affect their traditional territory.

“We have so many projects on the cusp of reality in the province, but none of those can happen if we don’t have First Nations involvement,” Arseneault has said.

“It’s not so much a duty to consult as our moral responsibility. It’s their land and we have to involve them.”

During a debate on a Quebec TV show Sunday night with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, Premier Brian Gallant made the case for the pipeline, saying it would create about 3,000 additional jobs every year in the province for nine years.

“If the project does not go forward, we will still be transporting oil around the country,” Gallant said. “It will be by train, by ship, by truck.”

Those methods generate more greenhouse gases than would a pipeline from Alberta to a New Brunswick terminal, he added.

Tremblay said the Grand Council is willing to meet with the federal Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr to discuss the peace and friendship treaties and a “nation-to-nation” relationship. But he said the group will not debate the pipeline, which is a no-go project as far as the council is concerned.

The Wolastoq Grand Council is the traditional government of the Maliseet territory and does not speak for the First Nations reserves and chiefs, created under the Indian Act.

“They are the voice of the hereditary Maliseet chiefs, as opposed to the chiefs and band councils elected under the authority of the Indian Act,” O’Byrne said.

“They do not have legal authority to govern, but they have moral authority.”

Grandmother Alma Brooks of St. Mary’s said the council would have “ways and means” to stop the pipeline, but did not elaborate on what that meant.

“I think we should stop extracting oil altogether,” Brooks said. “That doesn’t mean we are just naysayers. We realize there has to be an economy for people to live. We want to see a green economy, an economy that will support life.”

Green Party leader David Coon, who attended the news conference on Monday, said the Canadian and New Brunswick governments will have address the concerns expressed by the Wolastoq Grand Council and others.

“The situation in New Brunswick is that the land was never ceded to the Crown as it was in many other provinces,” Coon said.

“That puts the Wolastoq people in a very powerful position with respect to what happens on that land. … There will have to be direct discussions between the government of Canada, the government of New Brunswick and the First Nations communities up and down the river.”