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Province, Blueberry River First Nations reach agreement

by ahnationtalk on January 19, 202316 Views

Jan. 18, 2023

PRINCE GEORGE – 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/

Three backgrounders follow.

Contacts:

James Smith
Deputy Director of Communications
Office of the Premier
[email protected]

Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship
Media Relations
250 896-7365

Amanda Munro
Blueberry River First Nations
604 360-3994


BACKGROUNDER 1

What people are saying about the Blueberry River First Nations Implementation Agreement

Michael Rose, president and CEO, Tourmaline Oil Corp. –

“I am pleased with this new framework for oil and gas development that will create significant prosperity for the people and the Province, for Blueberry River First Nations and all the Treaty 8 First Nations of B.C., and for industry. Providing low-emission Canadian natural gas to the world is one of the best things we can do for the global atmosphere and the overall Canadian economy.”

Izwan Ismail, president and CEO, Petronas Energy Canada Ltd. –

“Petronas Canada is encouraged that an agreement has been reached between the Government of British Columbia and Blueberry River First Nations, in an important step toward reconciliation and the management of cumulative impacts. As a global energy leader, we look to B.C.’s world-class North Montney basin and LNG Canada as cornerstones of both our global portfolio and B.C.’s important economic and environmental opportunity to deliver the world’s lowest-emission LNG. With this important agreement in place, our collaborative relationship with Blueberry River First Nations as well as other Treaty 8 Nations, and our commitment to sustainable development, including land restoration continues. It is our expectation that the necessary work can now proceed to ensure that the gas PETRONAS Canada delivers to the LNG Canada project is responsibly produced right here in B.C., benefiting the entire province and country.”

Lisa Baiton, president and CEO, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) –

“Indigenous partnerships and participation are integral to the success of the natural gas and oil industry in British Columbia. CAPP and our members appreciate the diligent efforts of the Province of B.C. and the Blueberry River First Nations to reach this detailed agreement, and we acknowledge all the other Nations in our areas of operations. This agreement is a positive step forward and we are focused on gaining an understanding of the details within the agreement to chart a path forward, which enables the responsible development of B.C.’s rich natural resources in a way that ensures mutual benefits for industry, Indigenous Nations and British Columbians across the province.”

Tristan Goodman, president and CEO, The Explorers and Producers Association of Canada –

“The agreement between the British Columbia government and Indigenous communities in northeast B.C. provides much-needed clarity to move forward with natural gas development. These historic agreements demonstrate a commitment from all parties to reconciliation and the environmentally conscious development of B.C.’s natural resources. British Columbia’s clean and responsibly produced natural gas can support Canada’s climate goals and supply the world with lower carbon, reliable and affordable energy. The agreement offers opportunities for economic prosperity for Indigenous communities and contributes revenues to support provincial priorities, such as health care and affordable housing.”

Linda Coady, president and CEO, BC Council of Forest Industries (COFI) –

“As this agreement is implemented and more details made known, COFI will work with our members to support a path forward that reflects our recognition of Indigenous rights and our commitment to supporting sustainable forestry, people and communities. More broadly, and as important conversations about the future of forestry continue to take place across the province, we will keep collaborating with partners to further maximize the role a strong and sustainable forest industry can play in advancing reconciliation, fighting climate change and delivering good jobs for British Columbians today, and into the future.”

Mike Blosser, senior vice-president, Louisiana Pacific, Manufacturing Services –

“LP Building Solutions is pleased to see Blueberry River First Nations and the Province of B.C. finalize this agreement to ensure a successful balance between ecological, social and economic values and the long-term prosperity of northeast B.C. We look forward to working with all the Treaty 8 Nations and the Province of B.C. in the years to come.”

Greg D’Avignon, president and CEO, Business Council of British Columbia –

“The business council and our members have long advocated for meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous Nations that enable sustainable development in British Columbia. This agreement takes necessary steps toward advancing those shared goals and opportunities. Efficient, predictable and thorough decision-making processes are essential to urgently advancing our low-carbon natural resource and energy products to markets to reduce global GHG emissions, while enabling investment conditions for innovation and infrastructure to reduce domestic emissions. Acting in collaboration with purpose, globally and locally, will create sustainable economic prosperity for Nations, communities, businesses and all British Columbians.”

Leonard Hiebert, chair, Peace River Regional District –

“We are pleased that Blueberry River First Nations and the B.C. government have taken a thorough and collaborative approach to reach this significant milestone. This agreement is a step forward that will guide decision-making in the spirit of reconciliation, stewardship and partnership.”

Dale Bumstead, former mayor of Dawson Creek –

“The Yahey v. British Columbia decision is an incredible and iconic opportunity for all of us to recognize the importance of balancing resource development and respect for the land. The opportunity is to move forward as a region and a province together, toward a strong and prosperous future.”

Tim Burkhart, B.C. manager, strategic engagement, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) –

“Blueberry River First Nations have been stewarding their traditional territories since time immemorial, protecting both nature and way of life in the face of cumulative industrial disturbance. Y2Y celebrates the leadership of Blueberry River First Nations and the Province for reaching this agreement that invests back into Indigenous governments and communities to conserve ecosystems and biodiversity, advances B.C.’s 30% by 2030 land protection goals, and takes an important step to uphold the promises made in Treaty 8.”

Meaghen McCord, executive director, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), B.C. chapter –

“CPAWS-BC celebrates the agreement between the Province and Blueberry River First Nations as a much-needed step toward facilitating Indigenous land stewardship, recognizing Indigenous rights, and increasing land protection in B.C. Northeastern British Columbia has been significantly impacted by resource extraction and we are optimistic this agreement will help prevent and reverse biodiversity loss through improved land-use planning and restoration.”

Contacts:

James Smith
Deputy Director of Communications
Office of the Premier
[email protected]

Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship
Media Relations
250 896-7365

Amanda Munro
Blueberry River First Nations
604 360-3994


BACKGROUNDER 2

Implementation agreement key highlights

Wildlife management

The ability to access wildlife that is important to Blueberry River’s culture and way of life was a critical component of the B.C. government’s court case, and a key topic of discussion and consultation between the parties for many years. The Province and Blueberry River will work toward wildlife co-management.

Measures include:

  • improving information on wildlife populations, bringing together Indigenous knowledge and western science;
  • cultural burning to improve wildlife habitat;
  • increased focus on moose management, including future opportunities to revise licenced hunter restrictions to support population recovery;
  • continued support for caribou recovery; and
  • support to launch a community stewardship, monitoring and guardian program.

Land-use plans

Collaborative land-use planning is an important way that the Province and Blueberry River can ensure the Nations’ Treaty rights are protected and natural resource development activities can occur, for the benefit of local communities, the Province and First Nations. Through land-use planning, B.C. and Blueberry River will determine together where certain activities can occur, and under what expectations or requirements, and where they will be avoided in the future. Highlights from the agreement include:

  • a commitment to advance multiple watershed-level land use plans within the next three years. These plans will improve clarity about the natural-resource activities that are available and how ecosystem-based management will be implemented; and
  • as these ‘Watershed Management Basin Plans’ are developed, a series of operational level plans focused on land restoration, and petroleum and natural gas (PNG) sector activities will also be developed. The initial set of these high-value plans is targeted for completion within 15 months.

Petroleum and natural gas (PNG)

Through the agreement, the Province and Blueberry River will bring a more collaborative approach to oil and natural gas development planning and projects. Companies, the Province, Blueberry River and other Nations will sit together to discuss, design and agree to development plans. Measures include:

  • establishing areas for permanent protection from new development;
  • focusing disturbance from PNG wherever possible in areas already developed;
  • reducing new disturbance from PNG by approximately 50% from pre-court decision years;
  • introducing operational and strategic planning expectations for the sector, applicable to all new proposed activities; and
  • a limit on overall new disturbance from PNG activities in Blueberry River’s claim area, designated at 750 hectares, as further detailed planning and restoration activities can be developed and agreed to.

Forestry

Through the agreement, the Province will protect old forest and reduce timber harvesting in the defined High Value 1 (HV1) areas and traplines, to promote the return of healthy mature forests for the meaningful exercise of treaty rights. This includes an approximate reduction of 350,000 cubic metres per year in the Fort St. John Timber Supply Area, with the exception of a handful of small, locally held woodlot tenures. Impacted tenure holders will be compensated.

Other key elements of the agreement applicable to forestry include:

  • a cessation to aerial herbicide use, and ground-based herbicide use only in exceptional circumstances;
  • a commitment to implementing ecosystem-based management, applicable to the forest sector and other sectors as the Watershed Management Basin plans are complete; and
  • a two-year harvest schedule outside the Nations’ important forestry areas, while land-use planning activities are initiated.

Honouring Treaty 8

The parties have agreed to work together on measures to honour Treaty 8, including improving the awareness of and education on Treaty 8. Honouring the treaty will include sustained communications, shared training and awareness building, and providing support for communications with other Treaty 8 First Nations and local elected leaders.

Contacts:

James Smith
Deputy Director of Communications
Office of the Premier
[email protected]

Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship
Media Relations
250 896-7365

Amanda Munro
Blueberry River First Nations
604 360-3994


BACKGROUNDER 3

B.C. Supreme Court decision summary

On June 29, 2021, the B.C. Supreme Court released its decision in Yahey v. British Columbia. The court found that the Province had breached its treaty commitment to Blueberry River First Nations (BRFN) and infringed the Nations’ rights to carry out their traditional ways of life. The court determined that decades of provincial development authorizations had left Blueberry River with no meaningful ability to exercise their Treaty 8 rights to hunt, fish and trap on their traditional territory. The court ruled that the Province could no longer authorize further activities that unjustifiably infringe Blueberry River’s treaty rights, or breach the Province’s honourable and fiduciary obligations. The court issued four declarations which among them include the requirement for the Province to work with Blueberry River on a new approach to natural resource development that protects the Nations’ Treaty rights and addresses cumulative impacts.

In handing down her decision, Justice Emily M. Burke issued four declarations:

  1. In causing and/or permitting the cumulative impacts of industrial development on BRFN’s Treaty Rights, the Province has breached its obligation to BRFN under Treaty 8, including its honourable and fiduciary obligations. The Province’s mechanisms for assessing and taking into account cumulative effects are lacking and have contributed to the breach of its obligations under Treaty 8;
  2. The Province has taken up lands to such an extent that there are not sufficient and appropriate lands in the Claim Area to allow for BRFN’s meaningful exercise of their Treaty Rights. The Province has therefore unjustifiably infringed BRFN’s Treaty Rights in permitting the cumulative impacts of industrial development to meaningfully diminish BRFN’s exercise of its Treaty Rights in the Claim Area;
  3. The Province may not continue to authorize activities that breach the promises included in Treaty 8, including the Province’s honourable and fiduciary obligations associated with Treaty 8 or that unjustifiably infringe BRFN’s exercise of its Treaty Rights; and
  4. The Parties must act with diligence to consult and negotiate for the purpose of establishing timely enforceable mechanisms to assess and manage the cumulative impact of industrial development on BRFN’s Treaty Rights, and to ensure these constitutional rights are respected.

On July 28, 2021, David Eby, then Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing, released a public statement, announcing the Province would not appeal the court’s decision.

To read the full court decision, see the B.C. court’s online portal: https://www.bccourts.ca/jdb-txt/sc/21/12/2021BCSC1287.htm

Contacts:

James Smith
Deputy Director of Communications
Office of the Premier
[email protected]

Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship
Media Relations
250 896-7365

Amanda Munro
Blueberry River First Nations
604 360-3994

Connect with the Province of B.C. at: news.gov.bc.ca/connect

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