In a twist to a story over land rights, Wolastoqey chiefs in New Brunswick have signed a memorandum of understanding with a foreign lumber company that it’s currently suing.
The parent company of AV Group which is based in India employs about 15,000 people in the province and manages 750,000 hectares of woodlands.
This agreement includes a number of forestry-related details including Indigenous knowledge, economic opportunities and a transfer of private land currently held by the AV Group.
Chief Patricia Bernard hopes the agreement changes the way business is done in the province.
“Not only to other forestry companies but to all other companies who wish to do business within this province,” she said. “It isn’t just the provincial crown you sort of have to build a relationship with, it’s the original inhabitants of this land.”
Mike Legere, government relations director AV Group said it’s not clear how much land will be returned.
“The portions that will be given back depends on the results of the engagements with the communities,” he said. “What are the culturally sensitive sites that they feel are important to them, so we don’t have a number on that yet.”
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AV Group is one of six forestry companies named in a 2021 lawsuit by Wolastoqey chiefs seeking Aboriginal title to their traditional territory.
“This MOU is a step towards resolving some of the allegations the chiefs have made in that claim,” said Ross Perley, chief of Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation).
The lawsuit is continuing against AV Group despite the agreement.
Also named in the suit is the province of New Brunswick and NB Power.
Wolastoqey’s claim covers approximately 60 per cent of the province.
Bernard said she hopes the MOU will lead to a settlement.
“I mean negotiation is always better than litigation,” she said. “It just takes two people willing to sit down and negotiate these things and there has to be some reconciliation there has to be acknowledgment.”
The chiefs say they’re not in talks with any other forestry companies at this time.