By: The Working Forest Staff
Buick, BC – Today is a milestone for Blueberry River First Nations (Blueberry) and Treaty 8 Territory in northeastern British Columbia. The Supreme Court of British Columbia has released its decision to protect the way of life guaranteed under Treaty 8 against the cumulative effects of aggressive industrial development promoted by successive provincial governments.
This court decision recognizes developments authorized by the Province have significantly diminished the ability of Blueberry members to exercise their rights to hunt, fish, and trap in their territory as part of their way of life and therefore constitute an infringement of their treaty rights. The Province has not justified this infringement. By order of the court: “the Province may not continue to authorize activities that breach the promises in the Treaty.”
“For years, Blueberry members have witnessed the destruction of our territory by provincial policies that actively support and promote industrial development at the expense of our way of life,” said Blueberry First Nations Chief Marvin Yahey. “We have persistently tried to have the Province take seriously the cumulative effects of industrial development on the waters, forests and wildlife in our traditional territory, and our ability to exercise our way of life-based on hunting, trapping, and fishing.”
Faced with the loss of our territory and way of life, Blueberry turned to the court, showing the court the threat posed by industrial development.
“We insisted there was another way – a way that could manage development sustainably, with respect for the land and the animals and the rights of our people. Our nation worked hard to develop ways to do that. But the Province continued to prioritize development ignoring our rights and without a way to account for cumulative effects,” said Chief Yahey.
Late yesterday, the court released its decision, finding in favour of Blueberry’s rights and validating our concerns. The court held that the Province’s aggressive approach to industrial development has left our nation without an ability to meaningfully exercise our treaty rights.
The court unequivocally recognized that the Province has not respected Blueberry’s treaty rights in its pursuit of oil and gas extraction, commercial forestry and other development, concluding that, “on a persistent and consistent basis, the Province has failed in its obligation to diligently and honourably implement the treaty.”
In its decision, the court has offered very strong protection to Blueberry treaty rights for the future. The court has declared:
- The Province may not continue to authorize activities that breach the promises in the treaty and infringe our rights.
- The Province is no longer permitted to pursue industrial development in a way and on a scale that ignores Blueberry’s rights, our input, and cumulative effects.
- The Province must now work with Blueberry in a new way to develop an approach that respects and preserves the territory and recognizes Blueberry’s rights and way of life.
Today, Blueberry River First Nations celebrate the new framework and path forward for our nation and the territory that is so central to our past and our future.
Supreme Court of British Columbia findings:
- The Province’s conduct was “perfunctory” and frustrated the “essential promise of the Treaty.”
- The Province has not only been remiss in addressing cumulative effects and the impacts of development on treaty rights but… “through royalty programs and policies, the Province has been actively encouraging the aggressive development of the Blueberry Claim Area through royalty programs and policies.”
- The Court noted that “the Oil and Gas Commission has never turned down an application because of concerns about habitat or cumulative effects on treaty rights.”
- The Province delayed in dealing with cumulative effects, despite clear evidence of serious negative impacts, instead of maintaining the “status quo” of the industry over the environment and Treaty rights, redirecting and moving issues “down the road” to another process that never actualized.
- A persistent pattern of redirection on the part of government officials in resource sectors, including oil and gas and forestry, as well as those in Indigenous relations.”
“This is a historic day for our Nation. The Court has issued a strong, respectful and powerful judgment that holds the Crown to the true meaning of the promises made to our people, and all Treaty 8 people, the promises upon which this country was settled. To get this confirmation from the Court after all the years we have been raising our concerns with the Crown is a very important recognition of our people, our culture and our way of life. Our elders and our young ones and all of us are very moved by this judgment, and now hopeful for the future. Now we have to get to work right away.”
Blueberry First Nations Chief Marvin Yahey
Included in court testimony, recognizing the profound significance of Blueberry’s way of life on the land:
“if our grandparents see this today, they wouldn’t be happy. Just like me today. I’m not happy about what has happened to my country where we live for years. Even before me, my parents and their parents, they have chosen this place northeastern Peace River to survive, the Beaver Indian have picked this place to live…”
Blueberry River First Nations member
“…hunting is a very sacred thing to me. It’s been in my family generation for years and it’s something that I will always carry with me and it will always be a part of me. It’s me, who I am. And it’s just a way that I’ve been taught how to make a living of how to live. So it’s just the way that I’m always going to carry on with me.”
Blueberry River First Nations member