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Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, pictured, and Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock said in a statement Thursday that they are working together to advance reconciliation.The Canadian Press

New Brunswick’s Elsipogtog First Nation has signed a memorandum of understanding with Ottawa that could lead to negotiations on a Mi’kmaq claim of Aboriginal title to a third of the province.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock said in a statement Thursday that they are working together to advance reconciliation.

Elsipogtog filed a court claim in 2016 seeking a declaration confirming the Mi’kmaq Nation holds Aboriginal title and treaty rights to a district it calls Sikniktuk, which covers southeastern New Brunswick.

The two sides say that under the memorandum, they will explore the possibility of entering into negotiations for the recognition and implementation of Mi’kmaq rights as well as the protection and management of the environment and natural resources in the area.

The First Nation has said the title claim was prompted by fears of clashes over shale gas exploration in the area.

More than 40 people were arrested in 2013 after a protest grew violent in nearby Rexton, N.B.

“Today we take an important step to renew and strengthen our relationship with Elsipogtog First Nation,” Bennett said in a statement.

“This signing demonstrates our commitment to working as partners to find solutions that will help close socio-economic gaps and advance reconciliation for the benefit of community members and all Canadians.”

Sock said the title claim was filed to preserve the right to make decisions about “our land and waters” for future generations.

“This memorandum confirms the commitment of both Elsipogtog First Nation and Canada to establish a table to address issues raised as part of our claim and discuss how we can achieve reconciliation in a manner that recognizes and respects our title and rights,” he said.

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