Susan Levi-Peters easily rhymes off the names and dates of the many treaties her Mi’kmaq people signed with the Crowns of Europe and their emissaries, starting with Samuel de Champlain in the early 1600s.
The former chief of the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, Ms. Levi-Peters has a medal that was presented to her ancestors by King Louis XV of France nearly 300 years ago. She brought it with her this week to Ottawa, where she took part in celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation, the document signed by King George III of England that is regarded as a seminal declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples.
But as Ms. Levi-Peters was listening to politicians praise the relationship between the First Nations and the rest of Canada, her people back home were fighting to keep a resource company from conducting seismic testing on land near their reserve. New Brunswick Premier David Alward stepped in, and it was agreed Monday that a working group would be established to mediate the dispute. Meanwhile, the First Nations protest group Idle No More held a number of demonstrations in Canada and around the world on Monday, also timed for the proclamations anniversary.
The promises of the Royal Proclamation are absolutely pertinent to what is going on in Elsipogtog, Ms. Levi-Peters said. “Under the 1763 treaty,” she said in a telephone interview, “it specifically states that, in order for anybody to buy or do anything to First Nation land, they would have to go through the Crown but also through the Indians in a public forum.”
The battle between the Elsipogtog and SWN Resources, whose officials did not return calls Monday, has been going on for three years. SWN has been trying to test for shale gas. The Elsipogtog say the testing will ultimately lead to fracking, which, they argue, could cause the irreparable environmental degradation of their reserve and the surrounding area.
This year, they resorted to a series of roadblocks in an effort to keep SWN workers from their task. There have been multiple arrests and the situation is “very volatile,” said Ms. Levi-Peters, who accuses the company of failing to consult with the First Nation. “My people don’t want the fracking of shale gas or testing or exploration or anything of that form,” she said.
But native activists say the situation is emblematic of the confrontations that have erupted between the First Nations and the resource industry. And it is why the Royal Proclamation, which states that all land in North America belongs to indigenous people until it is ceded by treaty, is held out by First Nations as a foundation of their rights.
At a symposium held Monday in Gatineau, Que., to mark the proclamation’s anniversary, Governor-General David Johnston described the document as a “framework of values or principles that has given us a navigational map over the course of the past two-and-a-half centuries.”
And Bernard Valcourt, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, said it lays out the “duty our government has to consult with and work alongside First Nation peoples but also to protect aboriginal rights across Canada.”
As part of the Idle No More demonstrations on Monday, one of the group’s affiliates delivered a message to SWN’s head office in Houston that requested all projects near Elsipogtog come to a halt until the First Nations have been adequately consulted.
“What we’re saying is, ‘Why test?’ ” Ms. Levi-Peters said. “We’re not going to let you frack anyway. We have researched it and studied it and we cannot see a safe way of it being done.”