WOLASTOQEY TERRITORY - New Brunswick forest product company AV Group NB Inc. and the six Wolastoqey First Nations have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that outlines a path toward mutually-beneficial forest management and economic development opportunities.
"This is a historic step toward partnership between private industry and the Wolastoqey who have stewarded this land since time immemorial. This is a significant step towards respecting our Aboriginal title," said Chief Ross Perley of Neqotkuk.
The parties have agreed to pursue a greater collaborative approach to forest management and explore alternative forest tenure models that will incorporate meaningful input into decision-making processes.
It will explore ways in which Wolastoqey participation in governance, application of Indigenous knowledge, protection of values and sustainability can be brought to bear on management decisions in a spirit of joint responsibility and mutual benefit.
"AV Group's leaders should be commended for their willingness to recognize my community's constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights and Treaty rights under the Peace and Friendship Treaties," Chief Perley added.
"This is an important and vital step to the continued success and future growth of AV Group in New Brunswick. Our company's stated purpose includes enriching lives by building dynamic and responsible businesses that inspire trust. We felt it was time to put those words into action", stated Mike Legere, Director of Government Relations for AV Group.
"By simply talking and listening, we discovered more common ground than we initially expected with our Wolastoqey partners. Now we find ourselves on an exciting and ground-breaking path to a more productive relationship," added AV Group's Director of Woodland Operations, Conway Elkins.
One of the first deliverables from the MOU, which was put into effect Feb. 16, 2023, will be creating a mutual guiding principles document for developing a forest co-management model.
The MOU also includes the transfer of a parcel of land that will be determined by feedback from the Wolastoqiyik.
The Wolastoqey Nation filed an Aboriginal title claim in 2021 which names some of New Brunswick's forestry companies, including AV Group, and seeks the return of their land. This MOU is the first step toward what the Wolastoqey Chiefs hope will be a settlement of that claim against AV Group.
"This agreement should be seen by government, other forestry companies and New Brunswickers as a demonstration that by working in lock-step with Indigenous partners, we all can enjoy a sustainable relationship with the land we all now call home," said Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of Sitansisk. "Today's MOU is about beginning a relationship and discussing options for settlement. The Wolastoqey Chiefs would welcome such discussions with any of the Industrial defendants."
The Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick provides technical advice and support to help Wolastoqey communities ensure that the constitutional duty to consult owed to the Wolastoqey is being met and Wolastoqey Aboriginal and Treaty Rights are being recognized and implemented. The communities include Matawaskiye (Madawaska First Nation), Wotstak (Woodstock First Nation), Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation), Bilijk (Kingsclear First Nation), Sitansisk (St. Mary's First Nation) and Welamukotuk (Oromocto First Nation).
Established in 1997, AV Group NB leads by example, creating opportunity and economic growth through investment in new technologies, employees and strategic partnerships. As a member of The Aditya Birla Group based in India, its mandate is to produce specialty pulp products to service the textile industry. It is one of New Brunswick's largest employers with more than 1,500 employees.
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