VANCOUVER, B.C. -Many Treaty 8 leaders gathered Thursday as Blueberry River First Nations celebrated its cumulative impacts case win against the province.
On June 29th, Supreme Court Justice Burke said the province is no longer authorized to allow development activities that would impact Treaty 8 rights of hunting, fishing and trapping. This marked the first case of its kind in Canada, with many Indigenous leaders stating it sets a future precedent.
“This confirmation from the court that our Treaty has not been honoured is a historic moment for Blueberry and all Treaty 8 people, but there is still a lot of work to do,” said Blueberry River First Nations Chief Marvin Yahey outside the Vancouver Supreme Court building on Thursday.
“We expect full recognition of our rights as determined by the Court and as required by constitutional law.”
Many leaders were present to celebrate the court win, including members of First Nations in Doig River, West Moberly, Saulteau and Fort Nelson.
Fort Nelson First Nation Chief, Sharleen Gale, says that Treaty 8 land has been used to generate wealth for others for decades.
“This landmark ruling validates our long held position as Treaty 8 nations that the province approach to allowing skip the scale of development in our territory has been harmful to our land base. And it has been counter to our treaty rights,” said Gale.
The ruling allows First Nations to work collaboratively to determine how future generations will benefit from their land, says Gale.
“This ruling is a victory for our future generations, which we work so hard for, and how we make decisions is based on the seven generations. What are we going to leave them behind?”
Gale says there needs to be a balance and understanding between First Nations and the province.
“As Chief Yahey said, we’re not against development, we want to be a part of our economies, we want to be a part of our resources and what that means for building up our communities,” said Gale.
“We need our own source revenue so that we can do that, and we can look after people in our nations and our community members that live abroad.”
To Premier John Horgan and the Liberal government, Gale said he needs to show his commitment and not appeal the decision.
“An appeal would be pointless and would just delay solutions to the problem,” said Chief Yahey.
“Our Treaty hasn’t been honoured for many years, but we hope the government will now do the right thing and work with us to protect our lands and wildlife and find a balance for treaty rights and an economic future.”
Yahey says the First Nations goal isn’t to shut down industry of impact communities relying on resource development. He says it is time for rebalancing and cooperation to fix land management while putting measures in place to protect the environment.
“Many of our members work in industry to provide for their families. We support the responsible development of resources when done in a way that respects our land, our waters and ensures we can continue our way of life. There is plenty of work for everyone if this is done the right way.”
West Moberly Chief Roland Willson is familiar with court battles as the First Nation is currently fighting BC Hydro and the province in court on the effects of the Site C dam.
“How many times do we have to stand here and defend our treaty rights? When is the Crown going to step up and say, we have a treaty with you, and we’re going to do the right thing,” said Willson in front of the Supreme Court building in Vancouver on Thursday.
“Not just with treaty people with the First Nations people of this country. We’re in court all the time.”
The Court determined that over 84 per cent of the Blueberry territory is now within 500 metres of an industrial disturbance.
“The province has breached its obligations to Blueberry under the Treaty in failing to act in accordance with the honour of the Crown to implement the Treaty promise that Blueberry’s rights to hunt, fish and trap would continue and that its mode of life would not be forcibly interfered with.”
The Court concluded, “the province has failed to diligently implement the Treaty promise to protect the Plaintiffs’ treaty rights and ways of life from the cumulative impacts of development on the land.”
Once it is determined that a government infringed upon a treaty right, the government must compensate the First Nations. Instead of asking for compensation in the form of land or cash, Blueberry is only asking for a halt to further development activities.
Justice Burke has suspended the order for a period of six months to allow time for the province and First Nations to negotiate changes.