FORT ST. JOHN -- Blueberry River First Nations and the Province have reached an initial agreement that begins to support healing the land, and helps provide stability and certainty for forestry and oil and gas permit holders in Blueberry’s traditional territory in the immediate term.

The agreement follows the historic B.C. Supreme Court ruling in Blueberry River First Nations (Yahey) v. Province of British Columbia, which determined the Treaty 8 rights of the Blueberry River First Nations have been breached by development authorized by the provincial government over many years.

“Blueberry people have been raising the alarm bells for years about the increasing destruction of our territory and our way of life. The court has issued a ruling in the strongest terms that puts an end to the government approval practices that have led us here,” said Chief Marvin Yahey.

The initial agreement is a first step in responding to the B.C. Supreme Court’s decision, which requires the Province and Blueberry to work together to develop land management processes in Blueberry territory that restore and protect the ability of the land to support Indigenous ways of life, and ensure future development authorizations manage cumulative effects on land and wildlife and their impact on the Nation’s treaty rights.

“It has been a long battle and total vindication of Blueberry’s position. But now, with this ruling, we finally see government taking the historic importance of this moment seriously. We are pleased to sit here with government today to announce a good faith first step in the journey to begin to heal the land, while supporting stability in our region,” said Chief Yahey.

Under the agreement, the Province will establish a $35-million fund for Blueberry to undertake activities to heal the land, creating jobs for Nation members and business for service providers in the northeast region. Activities will include:

• land, road and seismic restoration;

• river, stream, and wetland restoration;

• habitat connectivity;

• native seed and nursery projects; and

• training for restoration activities.

In addition, $30 million will be allocated to support the Blueberry River First Nations in protecting their Indigenous way of life. Activities will include:

• work on cultural areas, traplines, cabins and trails;

• educational activities and materials, including teaching traditional skills and language;

• expanding Blueberry River resources and capacity for land management; and

• restoring the health of wildlife through wildlife management, habitat enhancement including prescribed burning, and research.

As part of the agreement, 195 forestry and oil and gas projects, which were permitted or authorized prior to the court decision and where activities have not yet started, will proceed. Twenty currently approved authorizations, which relate to development activities in areas of high cultural importance, will not proceed without further negotiation and agreement from Blueberry. The Province has provided notification to the respective permit holders.

The Province and Blueberry are now working to finalize an interim approach for reviewing new natural resource activities that balance Treaty 8 rights, the economy and the environment.

Once an interim approach is in place, the negotiation teams will work to reach long-term solutions that protect Treaty 8 rights and an Indigenous way of life. They will explore establishing areas for protection and developing ecosystem-based management systems to incorporate cumulative impacts into decision-making. The solutions will work to reset the balance promised in Treaty 8, ensuring environmental sustainability, protection of Treaty 8 rights and Indigenous culture, and stable economic activity and employment.

The Province is starting dialogue with the other Treaty 8 Nations on matters of treaty rights, including advancing new environmental restoration work across Treaty 8 territory and ensuring all Treaty 8 Nations are part of the development of a new approach to how natural resource activity is planned and authorized in the territory.

There is a lot more work to do. In the end, upholding the promises of Treaty 8 will be for the benefit of us all,” said Chief Yahey

The Province and Blueberry will provide regular updates to, and seek input from, Blueberry members, industry, local governments and residents of the Northeast as negotiations proceed.