We are treaty people, whether Aboriginal or not. Those of us who are not members of First Nations don’t usually think of ourselves as treaty people, but it is the case. The movement to protect our peoples, land and water from fracking has opened a door for us to stand beside our Aboriginal neighbours to demand that the treaties are honoured by both Fredericton and Ottawa.
In the Maritimes, treaties were signed between First Nations and representatives of the Crown following protracted and unwinnable warfare. No side was conquered. No territory was ceded. Instead, Treaties of Peace and Friendship, as they were called, established the terms of peaceful co-existence recognizing First Nations as sovereign peoples. These treaties are recognized and protected within Canada’s Constitution.
The Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Mi’kmaq, known collectively as the Wabanaki people, have a unique legal status as the original peoples of our region. Whether we realize it or not, we are in part defined by these treaties. They affirm rights and responsibilities on the part of all signatories. The problem is that both federal and provincial governments have failed to respect the treaties or recognize the sovereignty of First Nations.
In response, First Nations have gone to court time and time again, and to have the rights which flow from the treaties upheld in Canadian law. Yet these court decisions continue to be lost on our leaders. In fact, governments, including our own, have repeatedly appealed court rulings that found in favour of Aboriginal people exercising their rights, forcing the proceedings all the way to the Supreme Court. Still, our governments continue to operate as if the treaties don’t exist, and not surprisingly, have never made an effort to educate us about them.
It is plain to see for most people of good will, that we need a new relationship rooted in the treaties with First Nations if we are ever to achieve true peace and friendship. The efforts of anglophones, Acadians and the people of the First Nations to safeguard our water and land from fracking has opened that door. Let’s all walk through it.
David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick.