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Province, Blueberry River First Nations reach agreement

Premier David Eby in Prince George Wednesday. Government of B.C. photo

The B.C. government and Blueberry River First Nations have reached an 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, according to a government news release.

“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 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 in Prince George Wednesday. “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 land restoration, 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 land restoration decades of industrial activity;

* 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 per cent 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.

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