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Tobique flies the New Brunswick consultative coop, here comes TransCanada

As First Nation community leaves AFNCNB, Energy East borehole testing readies

by Miles Howe

Earlier this year, hundreds descended upon the community of Red Head, New Brunswick, in protest over TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. [Photo: M. Howe]
Earlier this year, hundreds descended upon the community of Red Head, New Brunswick, in protest over TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. [Photo: M. Howe]

Red Head, New Brunswick -- As TransCanada now prepares to drill boreholes off the shore of Anthony's Cove, in anticipation of its as-yet unapproved Energy East pipeline, the possibility of a one-stop Indigenous consultation shop in New Brunswick appears to be quietly going up in smoke.

The Assembly of Chiefs in New Brunswick Inc. (AFNCNB), just recently lost one of its last remaining Wolastoq clients, as Tobique (Neqotkuk) First Nation, with a 2008 population of just under 2,000 members, this month exited from under the AFNCNB's consultative umbrella.

"Tobique First Nation Chief and Council felt it was in the best interest of our community to withdraw from the Assembly of FN Chiefs NB. The Assembly of FN Chiefs NB did not progress or meet community expectations on various different files that are important to Tobique First Nation band members," reads a statement sent to the Halifax Media Co-op by Tobique Chief Ross Perley.

Of six Wolastoq communities in New Brunswick, only one – Kingsclear – now remains allied to the AFNCNB. Wolastoqiyik territory is traditionally west of the Saint John river, while Mi'kmaq territory lies to the east.

Ron Tremblay, Tobique band member as well the spokesperson of the Wolastoq Grand Council, congratulates Chief Perley's decision. Tremblay alludes to the rift within the AFNCNB between the province's six Wolastoq communities and the nine Mi'kmaq communities east of the Saint John. Consultation over the Energy East pipeline, whose path will lead exclusively west of the Saint John river, has, to Tremblay, exacerbated the reality of the Wolastoq being outnumbered within a consultative group purporting to speak on behalf of them.

“I think it's a very wise move for the community,” says Tremblay. “I've spoken to a lot of the Wolastoq chiefs, the ones that have left the organization. There's only six Wolastoq communities and even when Saint Mary's was first part of it, they all mentioned that they were outnumbered.”

Tremblay's concern, of having industrial projects that stand to have Wolastoq-specific impacts being determined by Mi'kmaq Chiefs on their behalf, is currently playing out in real-time with TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline project.

Under the province's Duty to Consult policy, TransCanada's current work plan, which notes that it might start borehole drilling within days, would have had to have undergone some degree of consultation with New Brunswick's Indigenous communities.

This consultation process would have most likely been overseen by the AFNCNB.

To further complicate matters, former Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Jesse Simon continues to be listed as a director on the AFNCNB's board. Simon is also employed as a consultant by former Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine's consultation company, Ishkonigan – the company that TransCanada has employed in the Maritimes to do its 'Indigenous consultation' activities. This potentially becomes a question of TransCanada consulting with itself for 'Indigenous approval'.

Tobique First Nation would have been involved in – or at least legally-bound to – any negotiations with TransCanada prior to this month's departure from the AFNCNB. This time period likely would have included the approval of TransCanada's current work plan.

Leaving the AFNCNB now opens the door for Tobique to chart its own consultative course. But it also may leave the community bound to whatever prior negotiations the AFNCNB undertook on its behalf with TransCanada.

The Energy East file is not the first or only instance of questionable links between the AFNCNB and out-of-province companies looking to conduct industrial mega-projects in New Brunswick.

Perhaps the most famous example occured between 2012 and 2013, when the AFNCNB accepted multiple thousands of dollars from SWN Resource Canada – the subsidiary of Houston, Texas-based, SWN – to perform 'consultative activities' on the company's behalf, as it related to their desire to seismic test for shale gas in New Brunswick. These consultative activities involved the AFNCNB bringing Indian Act Chiefs on all-expense paid trips to Arkansas, where SWN enjoys an extremely tight relationship with state government on a variety of levels, including law enforcement.

The subsequent series of protests against shale gas in 2013 resulted in over 100 New Brunswickers being arrested, as well as numerous instances of police violence currently being investigated by the RCMP Civilian Complaints and Review Board. As it related to Elsipogtog First Nation, the lead Mi'kmaq community in the protests, it was itself legally-bound to the AFNCNB, as it was then under the organization's consultative wing.

This arguably created dangerous levels of intrigue and influence within the protests, as it was not necessarily straightforward in terms of what deals had been made – or were continuing to be made – at the Indian Act level, while grassroots people were taking to the highways of New Brunswick against SWN.

Elsipogtog, under current Chief Aaron Sock, subsequently removed itself from the AFNCNB. It is currently the Mi'kmaq community in New Brunswick to have done so.

To Tremblay, Chief Perley's withdrawal of Tobique from the AFNCNB is a positive first step. The next step, both towards avoiding the potential of future shale gas-reminiscent conflicts with the state and towards clarifying Tobique Chief and Council's stance on the Energy East pipeline, would be for a statement from Chief and Council. 

“My question to our Chief now is if Tobique has signed onto any of those past agreements with TransCanada,” says Tremblay. “If it has, does Chief Perley know if he has the authority to go back and ask for his name to be struck from any of the decisions from any previous meetings with TransCanada. Chief Ross Perley needs to make a direct statement now on behalf of his council and himself on where they stand on Energy Easy project.”  

Miles Howe is the author of 'Debriefing Elsipogtog - The Anatomy of a Struggle'.

You can follow him on twitter: @mileshowe

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