Given recent developments in the Atlantic region, and together with Regional Chief Roger Augustine, we would like to offer an update on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) regarding recent meetings with the leadership and citizens of Elsipogtog First Nation, other regional leadership and the Mi’kmaq Grand Council. This recent meeting was an opportunity to express support for the community, to address the safety of all citizens to protect their lands and waters and also to discuss the broader issues of the imperative of respect for Indigenous title and rights and for treaty implementation.
Protecting Their Lands and Waters – Elsipogtog First Nation
I have been to the community of Elsipogtog a number of times in recent weeks and over the past months. Last July I met with the Women’s Circle, Chief Arren Sock and Council and offered my support in their efforts to protect their traditional lands. At the time, we discussed and encouraged local authorities to work diligently with the peacekeepers to ensure safety and security of all involved, strongly suggesting that the situation needed full coordination, communication and increased support toward a sustainable solution that guaranteed the safety of the citizens of the Elsipogtog First Nation.
It has always been clear that the concerns and issues at play in Elsipogtog are about more than one project and about more than fracking. It is about First Nations rights, Treaties and title, about the right of First Nations to have a say over activities that take place in their traditional territories. More broadly, it involves the need for First Nations to drive forward energy strategy throughout the country. First Nations are advancing green energy alternatives across the country and we have a critical role to play in advancing these sustainable, clean energy initiatives as a leading part of any consideration of national energy policy and strategy in this country.
On October 17, as in the words of the leadership, we were “heartbroken” to see the images and the actions against elders, women and children who were protecting their rights and their territories. The AFN has always and will always stand with the leadership and the peoples peacefully asserting their right to have a say in any activities that could affect their lives, their lands and their rights.
These actions were also shocking because the Chief and community had been engaging in a process of “good faith” discussions with the province in an attempt to resolve the issue when the raid took place. These kinds of actions erode trust, seriously diminish any chance of dialogue and are and were a major setback. Safety and security of our citizens must be a priority and a requirement going forward.
We stand in full support of the Chief, council and citizens of Elsipogtog in asserting their rights, and will continue to offer support to the community in achieving a positive resolution that respects their rights and jurisdiction.
Elsipogtog Community Meetings
Immediately, on October 17, myself and my office were in touch with the Elsipogtog First Nation leadership, Regional Chief Roger Augustine and other regional contacts. That same day, I wrote to New Brunswick Premier David Alward to voice serious concerns about the actions by the RCMP and reiterating the urgent need for safety and security for the people. I also wrote to Chief Sock to reaffirm our ongoing support for the people of Elsipogtog First Nation and to offer any support that would be helpful. The AFN Executive also pulled together a support team that could travel to the community on short notice at request of the Chief and Council.
Throughout this process we have respected the leadership of the Chief, Council and community of Elsipogtog First Nation and assured them we would act based on their direction.
Throughout the following days, important conversations occurred including with the Mikmaq Grand Council referencing the broader impacts and the concern of the broader Nation of all Mikmaq expressing concern and care for Elsipogtog.
On October 24, I was honoured to be invited to a meeting of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock and other leadership and community members in the Atlantic region. Myself and AFN Regional Chief Roger Augustine were invited to meet with the leadership and community members to discuss strategy, community safety and next steps.
The leadership offered support for the development of a community safety plan and ongoing strategy to protect and advance Mi’kmaq and Indigenous Treaty rights to lands. We also discussed the need to advance a broader national First Nations energy strategy specific to green energy, fossil fuels, and an overall agenda for sustainability and economies grounded in traditional understandings and the Treaty relationship.
Resource Development and Energy Interests
The situation in Elsipogtog is not isolated. First Nations across this country are confronted by similar interests and sometimes pressure from industry to develop our lands and our natural resources. First Nations have been clear. We are not against all development but we will not support development at all costs. We must be engaged from the beginning. We must be active participants in any development or proposed development that will impact our lands, our territories, and the future of our children and families. The duty to consult must be met and the standard of free, prior and informed consent must be honoured.
The AFN and First Nation leaders from coast to coast to coast have consistently called for governments and industry to respect Indigenous rights, the Treaties, and the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Some First Nation communities are working together with industry and there are many best practices and models we can look to, yet every situation is different and specific to the First Nation government and citizens.
First Nations are not only ready for meaningful discussions on the broader issue of development, including energy and clean energy, we demand it. The Chiefs Committee on Economic Development is meeting November 13-14 in Moncton, New Brunswick. Part of their work in November will be reviewing follow up from our very successful International Indigenous Summit on Energy and Mining held in Niagara Falls, June 2011. They will be discussing the possibility of a second Summit to build on the outcomes and to drive the agenda forward. A special panel on energy will be scheduled for our upcoming Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, PQ on December 10-12.
At the same time, AFN is closely monitoring and becoming more actively engaged in international environmental forums. Without a doubt, Indigenous peoples must be heard on climate change and the full spectrum of impacts on the lands and waters. We will seek every opportunity to take this forward in new ways. Upcoming international meetings including the UN Forum on Climate Change taking place in Poland November 11-22nd, 2013 as well as the UN Open Working Group meeting on Sustainable Development Goals taking place at the end of November are two such opportunities. We must and will find new ways to support our voices being heard.
As a final note, it is clear that achieving full respect and recognition of First Nations rights, including the right to free, prior and informed consent on any proposed development that could affect our lands, our waters or our people, is a primary objective underlying all our work. The support we’ve seen for Elsipogtog compels action to address the broader issues of development across the country. It is clear that First Nations are key players in this work and Canada cannot ignore this longstanding issue. Now is our time. This is the era of action.
We will keep you informed on all of this important work as we move forward and you can always visit www.afn.ca for more information. We have a dedicated web page to Elsipogtog specific information at http://www.afn.ca/index.php/en/elsipogtog-solidarity-en.