New Brunswick premier says First Nations title claim is serious and far-reaching
A title claim for 60 per cent of New Brunswick's territory that was filed by six Wolastoqey chiefs is very serious and has far-reaching implications, Premier Blaine Higgs said Wednesday.
In a revised land claim filed on Tuesday, the chiefs targeted corporations such as NB Power and forestry giant J.D. Irving, which exploit resources on their traditional lands. The chiefs want the land returned, they want compensation for the use of that land for the last 200 years, and they want title to the entire area.
"The land specified in this claim is not owned by politicians or even by the government in every case," Higgs told reporters in Fredericton. "It is land that belongs to New Brunswickers that people paid for and continue to pay for through their annual taxes."
Higgs said the claim could have a serious impact on the forestry industry and on the provincial economy.
The defendants listed in the claim include J.D. Irving Ltd. and 18 of its subsidiaries or related entities, NB Power, Acadian Timber, Twin Rivers Paper, H.J. Crabbe & Sons and A.V. Group. The companies are named in addition to the governments of New Brunswick and Canada.
"Never before has a claim of this nature attempted to take control of land that is privately owned," Higgs said. "It lacks the clarity that New Brunswickers deserve."
Higgs said if the province had to put a value on all the land identified in the document, it would be in the trillions of dollars. He said while some chiefs have assured they won't displace New Brunswickers from their homes and farms, he said he doesn't see that clearly defined in the court document.
"This claim creates tremendous uncertainty," Higgs said. "It requires our government's full attention."
Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland said the claim could have a major impact on the province's forestry industry. "Forestry is the backbone of this province's economy in many ways, especially in rural New Brunswick," he told reporters.
"The strength of this sector keeps food on the table for one in 14 New Brunswickers," he added. "In total, over 22,000 New Brunswickers are directly or indirectly employed by forestry."
Madawaska Maliseet First Nation Chief Patricia Bernard said the chiefs have no intention to bankrupt the province or leave anyone destitute. "We want to work with the province. We want to work with these industries," she told reporters during a virtual news conference late Wednesday.
"We were backed in a corner. We had no choice," she said. "If it was not this particular government, I don't think we'd be here right now. I think we'd be sitting down negotiating, dealing with our issues, dealing with jurisdiction, dealing with revenues on a partnership basis."
Higgs said he has asked for a meeting with the Wolastoqey chiefs, adding that he hopes they can meet before the end of the year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.