Government of New Brunswick tells employees to stop acknowledging Indigenous land titles

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Baron wishes to acknowledge that New Brunswick is situated on the unceded and unsurrendered traditional territories of the Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq, and Peskotomuhkatiyik Nations. The territory is unceded as the Peace and Friendship treaties signed in 1725 and 1726 did not surrender the lands.

On October 14, all Government of New Brunswick employees received a memo indicating that they were not allowed to make a territorial acknowledgment.

New Brunswick Legislature. (Wikipedia/Website)

GNB memo about acknowledging unceded territory

The memo employees received indicated that due to the First Nations lawsuit claiming ownership of 60% of New Brunswick land, it was better for them to not make any territorial acknowledgments. This rule must be followed in meetings, events, signatures in emails, and documents. 

Hon. Hugh J. A. Flemming, Q.C, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Public Safety, also included that if it is necessary to make an acknowledgement, the employees must use the one available on the memo. The approved acknowledgement says as follows:

“We (I) respectfully acknowledge the territory in which we gather as the ancestral homelands of the Wolastoqey, Mi’gmaw and Peskotomuhkati peoples. We strive for respectful relationships with all the peoples of this province as we search for collective healing and true reconciliation and honour this beautiful land together”.

The memo requests employees to use this acknowledgement and to refrain from using the terms “unceded” and “unsurrendered”.

Wolastoqey Nation and public response

Copy of the memo sent out on October 14 to all GNB employees. (Wolastoqey Nation N.B./Instagram)

The day after the release of the memo, the Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick published its response on their website and social media indicating their disappointment. 

Multiple chiefs such as the Oromocto Chief Shelley Sabattis and the chief of St. Mary’s, Allan Polchies, indicated their disagreement with the new rule. “The Attorney General is supposed to be the guardian of the public interest,” said Chief Sebattis.

CUPE N.B., or the Canadian Union of Public Employees, sided with the Wolastoqey Nation. The President of CUPE N.B. Steve Drost mentioned that this memo would “divide people” and “incite hate”.

Many other organizations and individuals have released territorial acknowledgments including the terms “unceded” and “unsurrendered”, including NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Green MLA David Coon, the New Brunswick RCMP, the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, and the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Roseanne Archibald made a brief statement while in Kamloops, B.C. indicating that this move by GNB is “denial”.

“…those lands are unceded, [and] are unsurrendered… [Telling people not to acknowledge the land is] not helpful for reconciliation and is not truthful,”.

Land Acknowledgment legality

In an interview with CBC’s Vanessa Vander Valk on Shift, former Attorney General and member of the Tobique First Nation T.J. Burke stated that he was “…confused… I didn’t see it as being needed to send out to the entire civil service,”.

When asked by Vander Valk how likely it would be that a land acknowledgment would be used as evidence in court, Burke didn’t think it would be used by “either plaintiffs or defendants”, adding to the confusion of the reasoning for the memo.

UNB Indigenous official advice

In response to the GNB memo, the Indigenous Student Advisor at UNB Saint John, Todd Ross, recommends that students, faculty, and staff acknowledge the unsurrendered and unceded traditional Wolastoqey land as established in a series of Peace and Friendship Treaties.