Blueberry River First Nations sues Province of BC for breach of Treaty 8

VANCOUVER, March 4, 2015 /CNW/ - Blueberry River First Nations has filed a ground breaking lawsuit in BC Supreme Court, suing the Province for breach of Treaty 8 due to the unprecedented industrial disturbance in Blueberry's territory that means they can no longer practice their way of life. This suit puts into question future development in the Northeast, including the Site C dam and natural gas extraction required to feed BC's burgeoning LNG industry.

This marks the first lawsuit regarding the Province's breach of Treaty 8 on the basis of the cumulative impacts of development. 

In 1900 Blueberry's ancestors signed Treaty 8, agreeing to open their lands in exchange for the promise that they would be able to practice their way of life as if they never entered treaty, amongst other things. At the time of signing the treaty Blueberry's ancestors were free to hunt, trap, fish, and gather traditional plants and resources throughout their lands, sustaining a vibrant society. This is no longer the case. 

Since signing the treaty Blueberry's territory has been ravaged by development. "Blueberry's ancestors would not recognize our territory today. It is covered by oil and gas wells, roads, pipelines, mines, clear cuts, hydro and seismic lines, private land holdings, and waste disposal sites, amongst other things", says Chief Marvin Yahey. "The pace and scale of development have accelerated in the last 25 years, and are now at unprecedented levels."

As a result, Blueberry members cannot meaningfully practice their way of life – something the crown promised they would always be able to do. As Chief Yahey describes, "there are vast dark zones throughout our territory where we are no longer able to practice our treaty rights."

"It is the cumulative impact of the thousands of provincially authorized activities, from water withdrawals, to major industrial projects such as the Site C dam, which have destroyed our way of life and threaten our continued existence as a people", says Chief Yahey. 

The northeast portion of Blueberry's territory (the Beatton watershed) is the most heavily impacted – studies have found that when development is buffered by 500 m, 90.8% of this area has been disturbed.1 When areas outside the Beatton watershed are considered, 66% is disturbed as a result of high-density linear industrial features and land clearing.2  Today, less developed areas to the west are under increased pressure from oil and gas development and the approved Site C dam threatens to flood a vast portion of the southern territory. Progress plans to supply PETRONAS' Pacific Northwest LNG facility in Prince Rupert with its holdings in Blueberry's territory.

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1 Lee, P & M. Hanneman, Atlas of land cover, industrial land uses and industrial-caused land change in the Peace Region of British Columbia. Global Forest Watch Canada report #4 International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. (2012) 95. at pg 68, online: David Suzuki Foundation < http://www.davidsuzuki.org/publications/downloads/ 2012/Peace_region_20120812_HR-optimized.pdf>.
2 MSES, "Effects of Industrial Disturbance on the Traditional Resources of the BRFN." (August 2012) at p. 5.

 

The economic benefits from the industrialization of Blueberry's territory are minimal. "Despite the devastating impacts of oil and gas activities on Blueberry's way of life, we have received few economic benefits from the Province. Under previous agreements, we received less than 0.1% of provincial oil and gas royalties, even though the bulk of these revenues come from our territory", says Chief Yahey.

Despite raising these concerns with the Province regularly and repeatedly there has been no meaningful response to this critical threat. Instead, "the Province continues to approve major industrial undertakings in our territory without full appreciation that each new approval brings our unique culture closer to extinction. This is a grave situation that the Province continues to ignore", said Chief Yahey.  "We fear things will only get worse with the LNG 'gold rush' we are witnessing in our territory today".

Blueberry wants to ensure generations to come are able to meaningfully exercise their treaty rights. The ability of Blueberry children to hunt and eat moose, harvest berries and medicinal plants, and learn their language while on the land, hangs in the balance. 

The full Notice of Civil Claim is available here: http://www.ratcliff.com/sites/default/files/news_articles/2015-03-03%20Notice%20of%20Civil%20Claim.PDF

A video of cumulative impacts to date is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5LizUgzDyA

Map of industrial development within BRFN territory:
http://www.ratcliff.com/news/blueberry-river-first-nations-file-claim-challenging-development-northeast-bc

SOURCE Blueberry River First Nations

For further information: Chief Marvin Yahey: cell: 250-262-6613, email: chiefyahey@blueberryfn.ca; John Rich, Legal counsel: cell: 604-970-5624, email: JRich@ratcliff.com

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