British Columbia and Blueberry River First Nations reach agreement towards partnership approach to land, water, resource stewardship; actions will include protecting more than 650,000 hectares from new petroleum & natural gas and forestry activities

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PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia , January 18, 2023 (press release) –

The B.C. government and Blueberry River First Nations have reached a historic agreement that will guide them forward in a partnership approach to land, water and resource stewardship that ensures Blueberry River members can meaningfully exercise their Treaty 8 rights, and provide stability and predictability for industry in the region.

 

“This agreement provides a clear pathway to get the hard work started on healing and restoring the land, and start on the joint planning with strong criteria to protect ecosystems, wildlife habitat and old forests,” said Chief Judy Desjarlais of the Blueberry River First Nations. “With the knowledge and guidance of our Elders, this new agreement will ensure there will be healthy land and resources for current and future generations to carry on our people’s way of life.”

The Blueberry River First Nations Implementation Agreement responds to a B.C. Supreme Court decision on June 29, 2021, that found the Province had infringed upon Blueberry River’s Treaty 8 rights due to the cumulative impacts of decades of industrial development. The court prohibited the provincial government from authorizing further activities, which unjustifiably infringe Blueberry River’s rights and directed the parties to negotiate a collaborative approach to land management and natural resource development that protects the Nations’ treaty rights.

“I’ve always believed that negotiation, rather than litigation, is the way forward for achieving reconciliation and strengthening vital government-to-government relationships,” said Premier David Eby. “This historic agreement between British Columbia and Blueberry River First Nations not only brings more predictability for the region and local economy but it helps ensure that we are operating on the land in partnership to ensure sustainability for future generations.”

The agreement will transform how the Province and First Nations steward land, water and resources together, and address cumulative effects in Blueberry River’s Claim Area through restoration to heal the land, new areas protected from industrial development, and constraint on development activities while a long-term cumulative effects management regime is implemented. In addition, it supports and advances the Province’s climate change strategy. The work of achieving these goals will be carried out through a series of measures, including:

  • a $200-million restoration fund by June 2025, which supports healing of the land from decades of legacy industrial disturbance;
  • an ecosystem-based management approach for future land-use planning in Blueberry River’s most culturally important areas, with ambitious timelines to complete new local and watershed level, land use plans;
  • limits on new petroleum and natural gas (PNG) development and a new planning regime for future oil and gas activities;
  • protections for old forest and traplines during and through planning;
  • land protections in Blueberry River’s high-value areas, which includes more than 650,000 hectares of protection from new PNG and forestry activities and will advance B.C.’s 30% land protections goal by 2030; and
  • wildlife co-management efforts, including moose management through licensed hunter restrictions to support population recovery.

Blueberry River First Nations will receive $87.5 million as a financial package over three years, with an opportunity for increased benefits based on PNG revenue-sharing and provincial royalty revenues in the next two fiscal years.

Quotes:

Josie Osborne, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation –

“This agreement supports progress on responsible resource development in British Columbia in a way that recognizes and respects Treaty 8 rights and promotes a new approach to stewarding the land, water and resources together. This is important work for all of us; it’s about honouring a century-old treaty and leaving the land in a good way for future generations.”

Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation –

“Our government is committed to upholding our obligations under Treaty 8. Following a thorough process of negotiations, we have found a sustainable, long-term solution with Blueberry River First Nations that will reset the balance promised in Treaty 8, ensuring environmental sustainability, protection of Indigenous culture, and stable economic activity and employment. I commend the leadership of Blueberry River First Nations, leaders in industry, and local community who have helped us on the path to achieving this landmark agreement.”

Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship –

“This historic agreement will help all of us achieve that crucial balance between protecting our environment, respecting and honouring the treaty rights of Blueberry River First Nations, and providing stability and predictability for industry, workers, and communities in the northeast. I want to thank the negotiators on all sides for their hard work in developing this agreement, which will help us heal the land from decades of industrial development.”

Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests –

This agreement recognizes the significant opportunities of moving forward in partnership with Blueberry River First Nations to co-manage our forests and create a stronger, more sustainable future. It aligns with our government’s work to better manage our forests for long-term ecosystem health and community resiliency.”

George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy –

“The agreement sets a new course to assist Blueberry River First Nations to heal, conserve and develop their lands in accordance with their rights, title and culture. It will change how resource activities are administered in Blueberry River’s claim area by building a new and critical framework that accounts for and addresses cumulative impacts. This agreement will result in significant positive effect on local ecosystems and climate impacts, and will ensure our path forward is based on environmental sustainability as a core principle guiding economic activity.”

Quick Facts:

  • The agreement is focused in Blueberry River’s civil claim area, which includes areas that are important to Blueberry, and other Treaty 8 Nations, for practising their treaty rights.
  • The agreement provides for annual reviews of implementation progress and effectiveness, and includes a formal three-year review.
  • The Province and Blueberry River have agreed to expeditiously begin implementation, and in order to support the local economy, this agreement provides for a series of timber harvesting and oil and gas activities to proceed throughout Blueberry River’s claim area.
  • In October 2021, the B.C. government and Blueberry River First Nations signed an initial agreement that provided the Nations with $65 million for land restoration, wildlife stewardship, and cultural and capacity investments.
  • That agreement provided added security for many existing authorized activities to continue in Blueberry River’s claim area as negotiations ensued.

Learn More:

To read the Supreme Court of B.C. decision, visit: https://www.bccourts.ca/jdb-txt/sc/21/12/2021BCSC1287.htm

Blueberry River First Nations, where happiness dwells: https://blueberryfn.com/where-happiness-dwells/

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