New Brunswick Forests Need the Wolastoqey Nation
By Community Forests International, Posted on January 17, 2022
In solidarity with the Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick.
New Brunswick is a province defined by beautiful forests and rivers that support an abundance of life.
For thousands of years before settlers arrived, long before the province of New Brunswick existed, the Wolastoqey Nation thrived in reciprocity with the forests of the Wolastoq watershed. Today, the six Wolastoqey communities in New Brunswick are asserting their right to continue to care for and benefit from these lands and waters for generations to come.
This movement is so important right now—most significantly for justice and reconciliation, but also for the forests of New Brunswick. More and more people are noticing the impacts that the last 200 years of colonization has had on forests, and right now the world needs healthy forests more than ever to keep us all safe from climate change. As one of the First Nations to call this land home, the Wolastoqey Nation continues to strive for the protection and well-being of their communities and the forests that surround us.
Last last year, the Wolastoqey Nation filed a title claim focusing on the major industrial forestry corporations that occupy their traditional lands. The land claim names these corporations and the governments of New Brunswick and Canada as defendants and specifies the list of traditional unceded properties that they seek returned.
Misleading political statements have made some people feel threatened and fearful of what this title claim could mean for their own land, even though the legal claim and the decisions of the Wolastoqey Nation have been so carefully designed to avoid impacting regular New Brunswickers.
“We want to be involved and we want to be partners. We want to protect this land for future generations.”
– Chief Patricia Bernard
The claim asks the court to confirm Aboriginal title to the territory of the Wolastoqey and only seeks the return of specific parcels of land, namely the unoccupied lands that are currently “owned” by the government and some large corporations. The claim does not seek to displace regular New Brunswickers from their homes, forests, or farms. It also does not seek to negatively impact the economy. A ruling in favour of the Wolastoqey Nation would even allow forestry to continue on those lands, as long as companies had an agreement with the Nation over acceptable forestry practices.
The Wolastoqey title claim is first and foremost a cause for justice.
It’s about rectifying past harms of colonization and caring for present and future generations. At the same time, this claim could affect positive change for land and waters in this province.
Many New Brunswickers have expressed concern about the condition of forests and rivers today. Many of us see how industrial corporations are unfairly benefitting from the land and want change.
The Wolastoqey Nation has witnessed this the longest and is struggling for their rightful say in how forests are managed and how benefits are shared. In the words of Chief Patricia Bernard of Madawaska Maliseet First Nation, “We live here, we live with settlers, but unfortunately, we have been excluded from the decision-making process.”
Community Forests International wants Wolastoqey rights to be recognized and respected. We believe we all benefit from a future that is more just and fair.
We ask our community to question fear-based political statements and listen directly to the Wolastoqey Nation’s own words with an open heart and mind, and support this movement toward positive change for the communities and forests of New Brunswick.