APTN National News
First Nation leaders in New Brunswick say a former premier needs a lesson on treaties.
Frank McKenna has been a vocal supporter of the Energy East Pipeline, a project to carry crude oil from Alberta to Eastern Canada. It could wind its way through traditional Maliseet and Mi’kmaq territories to an oil refinery in Saint John.
McKenna was quoted in the Telegraph Journal this week touting the benefits of the pipeline coming east “…because we have fewer First Nation issues as a result of existing treaties whereas in the West, they don’t have treaties signed…and we have more Crown land that would be part of the right-of-way discussion.”
As a former politician, diplomat and current deputy chair of the TD Bank, McKenna is a prominent figure.
“While Mr. McKenna’s opinion is mistaken it is nevertheless influential,” said Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustine.
The Peace and Friendship Treaties signed in the mid-1700s formalized a relationship between the Crown and the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamoquoddy. The treaties affirm Aboriginal rights and title, but never surrendered land.
“With respect, Mr. McKenna has either been misinformed or has misspoken regarding our treaties and the current state of Aboriginal-Crown relations in New Brunswick,” said Augustine.
In his view, the treaties don’t mean fewer roadblocks, but instead lead to the bigger question of how First Nations can get a “piece of the action.”
And not just jobs, but royalties.
Other Mi’kmaq and Maliseet leaders are more cautious but say that if the pipeline becomes reality, they need to be in a position to negotiate.
“I have to be at the table. We have an obligation to be there,” said Candice Paul, chief of the St. Mary’s First Nation near Fredericton. “One of the elders told me that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Paul said Aboriginal concerns over environmental impacts will have to be addressed.
New Premier Brian Gallant promised a better approach to First Nations issues during his campaign.
“After four years of deteriorating relations with the government of New Brunswick, Mr. Gallant’s remarks offered reason to be cautiously optimistic,” said Augustine.
Gallant is all for the Energy East Pipeline calling it an economic boon that will create jobs. He flew to Alberta to show his support when TransCanada Corp filed the paperwork to kick start the regulatory process.
But if government drops the ball on consultation again and Aboriginal concerns are ignored in favour of industry, a repeat of the shale gas protests may loom on the horizon. A lot of ifs which can be avoided said Paul.
“I hope with this government now, that they saw and learned from that and that they sit down and meet with us, take our concerns and come up with an action plan of how we move forward,” said Paul.
A meeting between the province and First Nation chiefs is tentatively set for next week. Broad discussion on how to move forward on Aboriginal issues is on the agenda, as well as for First Nations leaders to make sure government has a better grasp on the treaties than McKenna.
“The former premier, McKenna, needs to go get educated on the Peace and Friendship Treaties that we do have in the province he was premier of and that we didn’t cede our land,” said Paul.
McKenna declined to comment.