Elsipogtog First Nation signs MOU with federal government to discuss Aboriginal title

Written by Ann Pohl on May 11, 2019

Kopit Lodge Speaker Kenneth Francis at the MOU signing event in Elsipogtog First Nation on May 9, 2019. Photo by Ann Pohl.

On May 9 in Elsipogtog First Nation, Chief Aaron Sock and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to discuss Aboriginal title to Mi’kmaq land that covers one third of New Brunswick.

Writer Ann Pohl was there in person and filed an article with the Kent County NB Environment Watch site. This excerpt is from that article. It includes the words of two of the Elsipogtog leaders and the one MLA present at the meeting.

Chief Sock recalled the anti-fracking protests in 2013 and explained that “never again” should his community have to go through that. “This is our land, and we decide what happens to it,” said Sock as he referenced the November 2016 Title Claim filed by Chief Sock, together with elder Kenneth Francis, a community volunteer and the Speaker for Kopit Lodge.

This Claim, against the federal and provincial governments, is to gain full recognition through the courts that the Mi’kmaq have never ceded their territory or any of the inherent rights that arise from their territory. They seek this recognition in order to control any development in their region, so as to protect the water, forests, land and communities in Sikniktuk, which makes up roughly one-third of the province of New Brunswick.

Both Francis and Sock are clear that they seek full recognition of Indigenous Title, not just for themselves and their children, but for all future generations of all Peoples and Life.  Furthermore, because “Politics is always in an electoral cycle, that comes and goes like the tides,” Sock said, he is confident in the enduring legacy offered by Kopit Lodge.

Kopit Lodge is a grassroots  community organization that operates at arms length to monitor and advise Elsipogtog politicians on management of resource extraction industries in their region. At the same time, the Kopit’ers work  closely with a large and diverse set of allies in Sikniktuk and across the region.

Sikniktuk is outlined in this map taken from Elsipogtog’s Title Claim document.

When Kenneth Francis, Speaker for Kopit Lodge, took his turn at the microphone, he said what every local resident present wanted to hear: “This is about protecting the land and the water… It is not a negotiation process where Title could be extinguished. The land is ours.” Kopit Lodge supports the MOU so that we “have this respected.”

Although the federal and the provincial governments filed replies in 2017 denying the content of the Elsipogtog Title Claim, from early days the federal government said they would prefer to talk this through than go to court. Up to now, the province of New Brunswick has not come to the table to talk. One would think they are still hoping this issue will just go away…

The only member of the New Brunswick government present at this MOU-signing event was our provincial MLA for Kent North, the riding where Elsipogtog is located. MLA Kevin Arseneau, who is a member of the Green Party caucus in Fredericton, was an honoured guest at yesterday’s event.

“Today has the potential of making history for the Mi’kmaq People,” commented Arseneau afterwards to this reporter. “We will never be able to make up for 400 years of colonialism, but we sure can look forward in an honest and meaningful way. To do so, the provincial government must be part of these important conversations. Their absence was noticeable, and makes you think, do we actually have a Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat in New Brunswick? But it’s not too late to step up!”

The CBC posted an article explaining the different legal terms involved in this Aboriginal title case.

Ann Pohl is a writer in Bass River, NB and a contributing reporter to the NB Media Co-op.

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