Blueberry River First Nations Agreement: Negotiation > litigation?
Today’s post is about the agreement entered into by Blueberry River First Nations (BRFN) and the Government of British Columbia, on January 18, 2023.
Photo credit: https://thenarwhal.ca/blueberry-river-first-nations-bc-landscape/
The agreement that was reached between the parties is intended “to protect wildlife, forest and land resources,” and create guidelines for the Nation and province to “share revenue from oil and gas development.”  It "sets out compensation, reparations, and a way forward for new natural resource projects," and limits how much land can be disturbed for new oil and gas projects. 
The agreement stems from a court case that was decided in 2021, which found that “the cumulative effects of industrial development authorized by the Province unjustifiably infringed BRFN’s Treaty rights.”  BRFN’s Treaty rights were found to be unjustifiably infringed because “the constant approval of new energy projects'' led to the disruption of such a large proportion of their land that there was no meaningful protection of the nation's way of life in their traditional territory. 
The cumulative impacts of the many projects that the B.C. government approved, “displaced Blueberry River members from areas upon which they have relied for generations,” and impaired their "ability to meaningfully continue an Indigenous way of life, centred on hunting, trapping, fishing, that is reliant upon a healthy environment”  To put the depth of the disturbance into perspective, “more than 84 per cent of the nation's territory is within 500 metres of an industrial disturbance.” 
Photo credit: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/treaty-8-blueberry-river-energy-british-columbia-ruling-1.6095081
The court case was the first to find that Treaty rights had been unjustifiably infringed due to cumulative impacts of projects that affect the environment, land, and wildlife.  The agreement has already encouraged similar claims from other First Nations, and provides a template for future agreements. 
The agreement has been met with support and applause from many, including the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, the Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. 
B.C. Premier David Eby has also shown support for the agreement, stating that “negotiation, rather than litigation, is the way forward for achieving reconciliation and strengthening vital government to government relationships." 
Chief Judy Desjarlais, of the Blueberry River First Nations, also gave a powerful statement about the path to the signing of the agreement, stating that the road to the agreement has been long, but it “means a brighter future for our children, grandchildren and next seven generations.”  Chief Desjarlais also shared the importance that the agreement assures that First Nations would now have “a say every step of the way,” and be involved in “all stages of development.” 
The agreement provides “a new and essential model for land management,” and considers long term sustainability, while also balancing Indigenous ways of life, the environment, and economic development. 
The agreement shows an effort from all involved parties to move towards reconciliation, and respect the knowledge, legal traditions, and Treaty rights of Blueberry River First Nations. It is not only a big step for BRFN, but for Indigenous nations across Canada, who can view the agreement as a template for other cumulative impacts claims. The move from court processes towards negotiations is also a step in the right direction, and will hopefully provide a better process for Indigenous nations to assert control and agency.
It’s important that Treaty rights are respected and upheld by federal and provincial governments in Canada, and that Indigenous nations are partners in land management and resource development decisions. I hope that the agreement between the B.C. government and BRFN will be a starting point for further advancements towards reconciliation, partnership, and environmental protection, and that Indigenous legal traditions will continue to be respected and play a central role in negotiations moving forward.
Until next time,
Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG
 “Province reaches deal with Blueberry River First Nations on natural resource development” (18 January 23), online: CBC News <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/bc-agreement-natural-resource-development-blueberry-first-nations-1.6718204>.
 “‘It’s a good day’ : Blueberry River First Nations signs historic agreement with B.C. government” (18 January 2023), online: CTV News Vancouver <https://bc.ctvnews.ca/it-s-a-good-day-blueberry-river-first-nations-signs-historic-agreement-with-b-c-government-1.6236444>.
 “Blueberry River First Nations Implementation Agreement: A pathway for negotiating cumulative effects claims” (24 January 2023), online: MLT Aikins <https://www.mltaikins.com/indigenous/blueberry-river-first-nations-implementation-agreement-a-pathway-for-negotiating-cumulative-effects-claims/>.
 Supra note 1.
 “A prosperous Northeast B.C. benefits us all. We must manage and use our resources sustainably” (2021), online: Blueberry River First Nations <https://blueberryfn.com/where-happiness-dwells/>.
 Supra note 1.
 Diana Audino et al, "Forging a Clearer Path Forward for Assessing Cumulative Impacts on Aboriginal and Treaty Rights" (2019) 57-2 Alberta Law Review 297, 2019 CanLIIDocs 3777, <https://canlii.ca/t/spvf>, retrieved on 2023-02-14.
 “Self-governance and the B.C. Blueberry First Nations agreement – webinar” (31 January 2023), online: Osler <https://www.osler.com/en/resources/regulations/2023/self-governance-and-the-b-c-blueberry-first-nations-agreement-webinar>.
 “Province, Blueberry River First Nations reach agreement” (18 January 23), online: British Columbia News <https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2023WLRS0004-000043>.
 Supra note 1.
 Supra note 2.
 Supra note 1.
 Supra note 5.