Rexton – A crowd of about 500 people cheered enthusiastically on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 1st, as Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock announced that his band and the Signitog District Grand Council representing Aboriginal People in the Maritimes are resuming direct control of their ancestral lands immediately. Those ancestral lands, commonly called “Crown land,” are currently held in trust by the federal and provincial governments.
Sock said the Elsipogtog First Nation and the Signitog District Grand Council were “compelled to act to save our waters, lands and animals from ruin.” As a result, the Original Peoples are “reclaiming responsibility for stewardship of all unoccupied reserved native lands in their territory” immediately. Sock gave Southwestern Energy (SWN), a Texas-based shale gas company, 24 hours to vacate all ancestral lands of Aboriginal people in the Maritimes.
Chief Sock’s historic announcement was made in front of the Irving Compound near Rexton where five shale gas thumper trucks have been trapped by protesters for several days. It also marks a new phase in the escalating struggle to stop shale gas companies from fracking New Brunswick, and may be simply the prelude to a constitutional battle over Aboriginal land rights.
The foundation of the Aboriginal people’s claim to be the rightful owners of so-called “Crown land” in New Brunswick is the fact that the lands of the Signigtog Mi’kmaq have never been ceded or sold to the Crown. That means the Mi’kmaq have never made any treaties or other agreements giving up their right to manage and control what is commonly called “Crown land” in New Brunswick and other areas of the Maritimes.
While the constitutional issues raised by Sock’s announcement could take years to settle in court, Sock reminded the province and SWN that, in July, “the Signigtog District Grand Council … served shale gas developer Southwestern Energy with an eviction notice.” What is not clear today is whether the Aboriginal Peoples will launch a court action to stop shale gas or simply resume the control and management of their ancestral lands and wait for SWN or the province to challenge their authority to do so.
Standing near the junction of Highway 134 and Highway 11 near Rexton, Sock told the assembled shale gas protesters and reporters that “the Original people of the territory, together with their hereditary and elected leaders, believe that their lands and waters are being badly mismanaged by Canada, the province and corporations to the point of ruin.”
As a result of federal and provincial government mismanagement, Sock said Mi’kmaq land is “now facing complete destruction” and “the Mi’kmaq people of Signigtog are resuming stewardship of their lands and waters to correct the problems and are planning measures to restore them back to good health.”
Sock told the crowd he was prepared to stand on the road and get arrested himself if necessary.
Several big trees that had fallen across the road near the Irving Compound were festooned with signs and banners proclaiming widespread opposition to any further shale gas activities in the province. Among those cheering Chief Sock were some Kent County municipal leaders. Earlier this year, the Kent County Regional Services Commission formally voted 14-1 to ask the provincial government for a moratorium on shale gas. Those leaders are now becoming a more common sight at protests. As with other protests on Highway 126 and elsewhere earlier this year, the RCMP has been blockading Highway 134 since protesters set up camp at the compound.
Dallas McQuarrie is a journalist residing in lSt. Ignace on Mi’kmaq territory.