Starting today, August 19, the assertion of Wolastoqey Indigenous rights for protection of sacred, ecologically sensitive landscapes will be tested through a judicial review. The case has the potential to set an important precedent given the status of the Wolastoq Grand Council as a traditional government and their legal claim of Mount Carleton Provincial Park as a sacred site. The Wolastoqewi Grand Chief emphasized this significance when he said that by taking the New Brunswick government to court, the Grand Council is “carrying on an ancestral legacy to resist the further destruction and theft of Indigenous land and waterways.”
At issue is the province’s July 2015 announcement that a $1.4 million snowmobile grooming hub and fuelling station would be developed in Mount Carleton Provincial Park before the following winter. The new development is proposed to open access to 343 kms of new trails and attract up to 1,000 new snowmobilers to the area during the winter months. However, this decision was announced prior to adequate communication and engagement with affected First Nations and before any environmental impact or archaeological assessment was conducted. The park is well-established as a culturally sacred and archaeologically significant site for Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqey Nations and, according to the province’s own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), is also home to several rare and endangered species and five Environmentally Significant Areas (ESA).
In the fall of 2015, an application requesting a judicial review of the province’s decision was submitted by the Wolastoq Grand Council, Grand Chief spassaqsit possesom (Ron Tremblay), and previous manager of the park, Jean-Louis Deveau. A second application was submitted in the fall of 2016 concerning an addition to the province’s plan featuring construction of two bridges in ecologically sensitive areas of the park; both applications will be reviewed together beginning August 19.
A judicial review requires a judge to evaluate the lawfulness of a decision made by a public entity, in this case, the Province of New Brunswick. The lawfulness of this decision will be evaluated within the emerging Indigenous rights regime and Provincial Acts and Regulations. Domestically, Indigenous rights are enshrined in Section 35 of the 1982 Canadian Constitution and the Crown has an established Duty to Consult and accommodate Indigenous Peoples when their inherent or Treaty rights might be infringed upon by development on Treaty or contested lands.
Locally, the Wolastokuk Yut (Wolastoq homeland), based along the Wolastoq (Saint John River), was never ceded (given over) to the British Crown, but rather was agreed to be shared in-common in pre-confederation Peace and Friendship Treaties. Globally, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) also requires that states cooperate with Indigenous Peoples and their chosen institutions (read: traditional governments) to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent before any project affecting their territories can be approved.
In addition to an interpretation of Wolastoqey rights regarding Mount Carleton, the judicial review will investigate whether the Province has met its own Duty to Consult policy, as well as requirements for park and resource planning under the Provincial Parks Act and the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation as part of the Clean Environment Act.
The public is welcome and invited to witness the case at the Woodstock Courthouse August 19 to 22, from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. The Wolastoq Grand Council is asking supporters and allies to help raise the funds required to pursue this case by making a donation at their Go Fund Me page.
Katalin Koller is an Acadian-Hungarian ally, socio-environmental activist, and doctoral candidate in human geography, living in Fredericton.