B.C. government, Blueberry River First Nations reach land management agreement

B.C. government, Blueberry River First Nations reach land management agreement

The Blueberry River First Nation and B.C. government have reached an agreement on how to determine land, water and resource stewardship under the nation’s Treaty 8 rights.

The agreement follows a 2021 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found B.C. had infringed upon Blueberry Rivers Treaty 8 rights because of the cumulative impacts of decades of industrial development in the nation’s area located in B.C.’s northeastern corner.

Litigation had started in 2015 and the provincial government decided against appealing the decision, which prohibited the provincial government from green-lighting further projects. It also directed the parties to negotiate a collaborative approach to land management and natural resource development that protects the treaty rights of the First Nation.

The agreement includes a $200-million restoration fund for lands disturbed by industrial activity and an implementation fund of $87.5 million.

In a news conference Wednesday (Jan. 18) Chief Judy Desjarlais of the Blueberry River First Nations said the agreement will allow current and future generations of her peoples to carry on their way of life by ensuring a healthy environment and resources.

“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.” She later pointed to the negative effects of industrial development on moose hunting as an example. “A lot of the animals had left the area,” she said.

Premier David Eby said he always believed that negotiation instead of litigation would be the way forward for achieving Reconciliation and strengthening vital government-to-government relationships.

“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.”

He later said that the agreement provides fresh momentum for other arrangements in the future, adding that other governments are paying attention to the court’s historic ruling, the first of its kind.

If the province had appealed the decision, it would have faced a lengthy process dragging out over years and the prospect of an injunction, which would have prohibited activities in the area for an unknown period of time, he added. Development can now go ahead, he said.

“But it’s going to go ahead in a different way,” he said, adding that the new eco-system based approach will include all actors.

Desjarlais said the agreement means “it’s no longer business as usual,” and her people will have a say every step of the way. This is not about stopping business, but building relationships, she added.

RELATED: B.C., Blueberry River make deal to keep most industry going

The $200-million restoration fund will be in place by 2025. The Blueberry River First Nations will also receive $87.5 million as a financial package over three years with the prospect of additional revenues through petroleum and natural-gas revenue sharing and provincial royalty revenues in the next two fiscal years.

The agreement does not end disturbances through petroleum and natural-gas activities, but limits them annually to 750 hectares, with some areas to be entirely off-limit to new disturbances. The agreement also includes a new planning regime for oil and gas activities as part of a planning approach and curtails forestry activities.

Eby said the new planning regime including limits on new disturbances will require industry to become more innovative.

Tristan Goodman, president and chief executive officers of The Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, said the agreement between the province and Indigenous communities in northeast B.C. provides much-needed clarity to move forward with natural gas development.

Izwan Ismail, president and chief executive officer of Petronas Energy Canada Ltd., said the agreement is an important step toward reconcilation, while highlighting the importance of the region for the company.

“Time is of essence to move forward with important investment in clean technology and innovation, including the sustainable development of natural gas and LNG, so Canada remains an important player in the global energy transition.”

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