The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says aboriginal peoples will not support resource development at any cost after he met Thursday with leaders of a band embroiled in a battle against shale gas exploration in eastern New Brunswick.
Shawn Atleo said Thursday the federal government must work with all bands to ensure treaties are implemented in the aftermath of violent clashes last week between the RCMP and members of the Elsipogtog First Nation near Rexton.
Atleo reiterated his support for the Elsipogtog First Nation after meeting with the band council, adding that bands are asserting their treaty rights and responsibilities over lands and waters.
First Nations are not against resource development, he said, but they won't agree to development at any cost.
"There has to be First Nations driving a vision about environmental sustainability," he said. "In this case [at Elsipogtog], they are standing firm in the protection of their land and water resources in particular."
Some members of Elsipogtog were arrested a week ago when the RCMP enforced a court-ordered injunction at the site of a protest outside a compound where SWN Resources stored exploration equipment and vehicles. Police said they seized guns and improvised explosive devices when they enforced the injunction to end the blockade of the compound.
Six police vehicles were burned and police responded with pepper-spray and fired non-lethal beanbag-type bullets to defuse the situation.
Atleo said the situation in New Brunswick provides an opportunity to spark discussion and action on the part of federal and provincial governments.
"Out of this incredible challenge that's emerged, perhaps there's opportunity to forge a new and better way to implement the spirit and intent of treaties, the likes of which the Mi'kmaq have," he said.
"What's required then is meaningful talks on a nation to nation, treaty by treaty basis between the Mi'kmaq nations like Elsipogtog and other levels of government – in particular the federal Crown who has the primary responsibility."
Atleo said governments are not fulfilling their treaty obligations now, and even exploration permits for energy companies like SWN are a violation of treaty rights.
Also participating in Thursday's meeting at Elsipogtog were members of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council and Roger Augustine, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
On Wednesday, New Brunswick Premier David Alward defended criticisms that his government has not consulted enough with First Nations about shale gas development.
Alward said his administration has consulted with First Nations more than any previous government in the province.
The Premier continues to support the development of the shale gas sector but he says it's still at the exploration stage and there would have to be further consultation and environmental studies for it to proceed.