New plan protects Blueberry River First Nations land and upholds Treaty rights

The Nation’s agreement with BC government aims to limit detrimental oil and gas activities

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An illustration of a landscape of blueberry rivers first nations territory, with a large green field, mountains, and a small village.
ILLUSTRATION: Angelina Tran / The Peak

By: Yasmin Hassan, Staff Writer, and Petra Chase, Editor-in-Chief

On May 30, the BC government and Blueberry River First Nations announced a three-year pilot plan to support Indigenous land restoration and protect Treaty rights. The Gundy High Value 1 Plan will reinforce Indigenous peoples’ involvement in decision-making regarding industrial development on and surrounding the land. 

Blueberry River is a self-governing First Nations community made up of “Beaver and Cree cultural groups,” located in Northeastern BC, where “each culture contributes to creating one strong, proud, and determined First Nation.” They are signatories of Treaty 8, which is a historic agreement between settlers and Indigenous peoples across BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and the Southwest portion of the Northwest territories.” Since it was signed in 1899, it legally requires all activity on these lands to respect “Indigenous way of life,” which includes a “healthy environment upon which [Indigenous] rights depend.”

The new plan comes after BC breached Treaty rights in 2021. The BC Supreme Court sided with Blueberry River First Nations, who brought the legal challenge to court. The provinical government was found to have permitted industrial over-development such as logging and oil and gas activities, which hindered activities like hunting and fishing. In January 2023, BC and Blueberry River First Nations signed the Blueberry River Implementation Agreement that set up a partnership for taking care of “water, land, and resource stewardship.” The agreement ensures that Blueberry River First Nations members can meaningfully exercise their Treaty 8 rights, while those who rely on resource industry jobs in the region can also have a sense of reliability. 

The Gundy plan is one in a series that sets new rules for developers that stress the involvement and protection of Treaty 8 Nations. Specifically, it focuses on “two watershed management basins, Cameron River and Blueberry River” in Fort St. John. It also includes a “robust framework for carrying out new oil and gas development.” The plan will involve regular reviews during its implementation.

“Finding balance to sustain the future lives of our members, Elders, and youth for generations to come is an important factor in reconciliation.” — Judy Desjarlais, Chief of Blueberry River First Nations

Judy Desjarlais, Chief of Blueberry River First Nations stated in the joint announcement, “Finding balance to sustain the future lives of our members, Elders, and youth for generations to come is an important factor in reconciliation.” 

The economic and environmental reconciliation representatives for Blueberry River Resources, an independent operation that seeks to “offload a majority of economic and restoration duties from the Blueberry River First Nations administration,” stated, “Through strong industry partnerships, our combined efforts sustain traditional practices, such as hunting, fishing, trapping, guiding, horsemanship, praying, and gathering medicines.”

In a statement to The Peak, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said BC is “committed to working with Blueberry River First Nations toward effective and efficient ways to balance the interests of Nations, the province and petroleum and natural gas tenure holders.” 

They go on to say that ensuring this plan goes through well is essential for a “sustainable environment, robust cultural values, as well as a vibrant local economy,” which helps not only the individual, but the community as a whole. 

The Peak reached out to Blueberry River First Nations for an interview, but they were not available for comment by the publication deadline.

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