Aboriginal Justice: First Nations Ban Shale Gas Development on Territory

by CPT-AJT and Elsipogtog First Nation

ElsipogtogThe Original Peoples of the Wabanaki-Mi’kmaq District of Signigtog asserted authority over lands and waterways affected by proposed shale gas exploration by issuing SouthWestern Energy Resources (SWN) a directive on 30 August 2013.

“Creator made us caretakers of Mother Earth,” said Kenneth Francis of Signigtog. “Our goal as the Collective Community of Concerned Members of Signigtog is to protect Mother Earth because we're killing her. She's already endured too much. We will lose our clean water if we sit back and allow what the shale gas companies are planning on doing in Signigtog. What they are planning is unacceptable. We do not accept the unacceptable.”

European explorers landing in what is the Canadian Province of New Brunswick encountered a vast, multi-faceted nation of aboriginal peoples known collectively as the Mi’kmaq.  The Mi’kmaq consist of more than a dozen bands, including Elsipogtog First Nation, located in the traditional Mi’kmaq territory of Signigtog—or District Six.

Mi’kmaq territory was divided into seven traditional districts, each with its independent government, including a district chief and a council, or Grand Council. Although the traditional Grand Council continues to exist, Canada, through the Indian Act, transferred its authority to govern onto elected Chiefs and Councils.  Nevertheless, on 30 May 2013, the Mi’kmaq Grand Council of Signigtog District Six issued a public notice prohibiting all “shale gas exploration and/or development” without the “expressed written consent and full participation of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council and the Mi’kmaq people of the Signigtog District,” (un-ceded land).

This followed the 14 May 2012 passage of a resolution by the Elsipogtog First Nation’s Band Council opposing shale gas exploration and development within Elsipogtog territory and New Brunswick.

The 30 August Directive, issued by Concerned Members of Signigtog, directly addresses SWN, applying the 30 May declaration to its operations on Signigtog territory: “You have been evicted from our territory. The eviction order from Grand Council is still in effect. We do not recognize any operating permits that you hold to undertake unauthorized activity.”

The Concerned Members of Signigtog is a collective community dedicated to protecting Mother Earth and working to re-assert their sovereignty over their traditional territories, and supported by the Mi’kmaq Grand Council.

Grand Council Keptin Noel Joe Augustine spoke of being a member. “It only takes a handful of people to save the lands and waters. Through our prayers and ceremonies, we have made a very good spiritual beginning. The sacred fire is now lit in the hearts of many people who are helping us to do what is right and protect the water.”

“Christian Peacemaker Teams is honored to be present as the Original Peoples of the Wabanaki-Mi’kmaq District of Signigtog undertakes this historic initiative and to support their sovereignty over the Wabanaki-Mi’kmaq District of Signitog,” CPT’s Aboriginal Justice Team wrote.