Blueberry River First Nation, BC province reach a $300 million agreement

After over a year of private negotiations, Blueberry River First Nation (BRFN) and the B.C. government have reached an agreement worth nearly $300 million regarding the band’s treaty rights.

BRFN Chief Judy Desjarlais, Premier David Eby, and multiple ministers announced the agreement in Prince George on Wednesday afternoon.

Some components of the agreement include limits on new petroleum and natural gas developments, a new planning regime for future oil and gas projects and a promise from the province to work with the nation to establish a $200 million restoration fund. The money will support land reclamation from damage caused by industrial disturbance.

“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 Desjarlais.

Map of Wells Drilled in BC 2022

“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,” she continued.

This is the second agreement coming off the 2021 B.C. Supreme Court decision, which found that the province has infringed on BRFN’s Treaty 8 rights by allowing industrial development in the band’s traditional territory. The first was an interim agreement which was reached in October of 2021.

“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,” Eby continued.

According to the province, BRFN will receive $87.5 million over three years from the province with an opportunity for increased benefits depending on petroleum and natural gas (PNG) revenue sharing and provincial royalty revenues over the next two fiscal years.

New framework and policies for resource development in Blueberry River’s civil claim area — which includes areas important to Blueberry and other Treaty 8 Nations for practising their treaty rights — will also be in play.

In its presentation, the province said that a lack of higher-level plans for oil and gas activities agreed to with First Nations has led to a large, loosely coordinated development footprint.

BRFN and the province have agreed to a new approach to oil and gas development, which aims to maximize land protections and limit new land disturbances in Blueberry’s high-value (HV1) areas.

The province said it will curb new disturbances in the civil claim area by 50 per cent compared to the pre-agreement years and will avoid disturbances for new wells and infrastructure. Instead, existing disturbances will be used for new oil and gas activities.

There will also be set protection targets for new disturbances in HV1 areas (shown in the map below). Purple areas will have a 100 per cent protection rate, orange locations will have 80 per cent protection and green areas will be 60 per cent protected.

Another measure to be implemented will be an annual disturbance cap of 750 hectares in Area 1, Area A and the rest of the claim area —200 hectares in Area 1 and 550 hectares in the rest of the claim area.

The province will also administer a set of rules for new disturbances. HV1 planning will start earlier and begin simultaneously with watershed management basin plans, as those will take twice as long to complete.

If other Treaty 8 Nations complete similar plans with the province, the agreement said that they could modify rules, including the disturbance cap outside Area 1 and the southern portion of the watershed management basin in Cameron River.

There was no mention of a halt on oil and gas activity.

Minister of water, land and resource stewardship Nathan Cullen said the historic agreement will help provide stability for residents of northeast B.C.

“[The 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.”

In the agreement, the provincial government also promised to contribute $200 million by June 2025 to establish the Blueberry River-BC Restoration Fund with the Nation. The fund aims to “heal the land and the people” by addressing decades of industrial disturbance, which the province said has led to fragmented ecosystems and wildlife habitat as well as the degradation of BRFN’s ability to practice their treaty rights.

The fund will be overseen by both parties with Indigenous-led delivery and restoration standard setting. The province’s contributions can also be offset by other contributions from industry, non-governmental organizations and the federal government.

The agreement also includes protections for old forest growth, traplines, and wildlife co-management efforts between BRFN and the province. Wildlife management measures include moose management through licensed hunting restrictions, which the province said will support population recovery.

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