Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and Marvin Yahey, Chief of Blueberry River First Nations, have issued the following update on negotiations to implement the June 29, 2021, ruling of the B.C. Supreme Court:
“On June 29, 2021, the B.C. Supreme Court issued a historic and important ruling, determining after 160 days of trial that the constitutionally protected Treaty 8 rights of the Blueberry River First Nations have been breached by the cumulative effects of industrial development authorized by the provincial government over many years. These impacts to the land and wildlife have displaced Blueberry River members from areas upon which they have relied for generations, and have impaired their ability to meaningfully continue an Indigenous way of life, centred on hunting, trapping and fishing, that is reliant upon a healthy environment. The court determined that this is a breach of the Crown promises upon which Treaty 8 rests and upon which Blueberry River First Nations’ consent to settlement was obtained in 1900.
“The court declared that there are no longer sufficient or appropriate lands in the Blueberry River claim area to allow for the meaningful exercise of Blueberry River’s treaty rights, and that the Province may not continue to authorize activities that breach the promises included in Treaty 8. Justice Emily Burke gave us six months to work together to improve provincial land management and permitting processes to recognize and respect Blueberry River’s treaty rights.
“The ruling requires a rebalancing of Treaty 8 rights, the economy and the environment. We recognize that this court decision has significant social and economic implications in the region, and that it has caused uncertainty for communities and industry.
“We want to emphasize that we are both committed to maintaining a healthy and sustainable economy in the region as we focus on environmental stewardship and healing the land. We will work as quickly as possible to achieve a path that establishes sustainability and certainty for the benefit of everyone who lives and works here.
“Our negotiation teams have already made progress together toward an interim approach for approved authorizations currently in the system, and our goal is to finalize it as soon as possible. This will promote stability for employers and workers in the territory and will allow us to begin the vital work of healing the land.
“Lorne Brownsey has been appointed as the Province’s lead negotiator and Bob Chamberlin as a special adviser to support the involvement of other Treaty 8 Nations, local governments and industry. Ratcliff LLP as legal counsel is assisting Blueberry River First Nations in the negotiations.
“Our future focus is on creating long-term solutions for collaborative decision-making that protect treaty rights and manage the cumulative impacts of industrial development. We are committed to creating a balanced path in the territory, one that provides environmental sustainability that respects and protects Treaty 8 rights and Indigenous culture along with stable economic activity and employment.
“We are committed to providing regular updates to and seeking input from Blueberry River First Nations members, industry, local governments and residents of the northeast as our discussions proceed. We are also reaching out to other Treaty 8 First Nations, many of whom have expressed support for the court’s decision, to ensure that they are part of the development of a new approach to authorizations in Treaty 8 territory and the important work of healing the land and restoring the health of wildlife.”