A historic case involving traditional Indigenous governance will take place on August 19 in a courthouse in Woodstock, New Brunswick. Wolastoqey Grand Council and Grand Chief Ron Tremblay, represented by Attorney J. Gordon Allen of Dartmouth, will challenge the province’s plans to develop a snowmobile grooming hub at Mount Carleton Provincial Park. For further details, read Mark D’Arcy’s article.
This court case touches on important issues for Indigenous peoples living within New Brunswick and for Wabanaki peoples in general. One key issue centers on how the original title holders of Wabanaki lands and waterways are reclaiming their traditional territories and challenging New Brunswick’s jurisdictional claim to them.
At the heart of this issue is a critical focus on Indigenous (First Nation) leadership and governance structure. Across Canada, Indigenous communities elect a chief and council who fall under the jurisdiction of two federal government departments: Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and Indigenous Services Canada. This relationship is a system of state-dependence and self-administration rather than self-determination and sovereignty.
Prior to colonization, Wabanaki peoples had their own system of matrifocal governance structures that were undermined and devastated by colonization. Articles 5 and 20 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) challenge Indigenous peoples to revitalize those traditional systems.
Wolastoqey Grand Council has been working to rebuild a Wolastoqey Traditional Longhouse Governance Structure that takes its guidance from the people – especially grandmothers. This structure aims to support the holistic growth of Wabanaki families, land and waterways. A major obstacle to realizing this is the current Indian Act, based on a paternalistic relationship between settler governments and Indigenous peoples.
By taking the province to court, Wolastoqey Grand Council is carrying on an ancestral legacy to resist the further destruction and theft of Indigenous lands and waterways. In this current trend of reconciliation and land acknowledgements a critical question to consider is: How is the reclamation of stolen Wabanaki lands taking place?
spasaqsit possesom (Ron Tremblay) is Wolastoqewi Grand Chief. Chris George is a doctoral candidate at the University of New Brunswick.