New Brunswick court opens hearings on if Indians own forests

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick (AP) — With billions of dollars in logging revenue at stake, New Brunswick’s highest court Thursday began hearings on whether 18th century treaties give Indians the right to harvest timber on government-owned land.
A lower court judge shocked the forestry industry and provincial government in November by ruling that publicly owned forests belong to the Indians and that they should have first right to timber.
The provincial government lodged an appeal, and the case — which has attracted national attention — went before the New Brunswick Court of Appeal on Thursday.
Forestry is New Brunswick’s biggest industry, worth about $3 billion ($2.1 million U.S.) annually in sales and employing roughly 16,000 people.
Over the past few months, scores of Indian loggers have been harvesting trees in areas that for years has been the exclusive domain of large forestry companies.
Some of the big lumber companies will be intervening during the appeal arguments.
Cleveland Allaby, one of the lawyers representing new Brunswick’s 10,000 Indian in the case, said he is confident the Indians are on solid legal ground.
He says their claim is upheld by several old treaties, including the Dummer treaty of 1726 that recognizes Indian ownership of their traditional lands.
The lower court ruling by Judge John Turnbull came in a case involving Thomas Paul, a Micmac Indian who was charged with illegally harvesting maple logs on government land where a private forestry company had license to operate.
Turnbull said 18th century treaties gave Indians the right to harvest “any and all trees they wish” on provincial land.