BUICK, B.C. — The British Columbia government says it’s making progress as it responds to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found it breached a First Nation’s treaty rights by approving industrial development without the nation’s approval over many years.

A joint statement from Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin and Blueberry River First Nations Chief Marvin Yahey says they’re negotiating an interim approach to industrial activity that’s already been approved in the area of northeastern B.C.

The statement says the ruling, which requires a “rebalancing” of treaty rights, the economy and the environment, has led to uncertainty for industry and surrounding communities, and their goal is to finalize the approach for existing activities as soon as possible.

The court ruled in June that the B.C. government had breached the nation’s rights under Treaty 8, signed more than 120 years ago, because it allowed development such as forestry and natural gas extraction without the nation’s approval.

The joint statement says the court found the cumulative effects of industrial development approved by the province had impaired the ability of Blueberry River First Nations’ members to “meaningfully continue an Indigenous way of life.”

The ruling gave the province six months to work with the nation to improve land management and the permitting process to respect the nation’s rights under the treaty.

The province notes it is reaching out to other Treaty 8 First Nations that have expressed support for the court’s decision to ensure they’re part of the process to heal the land and develop a new approach to approving industrial activity there.

“We are committed to creating a balanced path in the territory, one that provides environmental sustainability, that respects and protects Treaty 8 rights and Indigenous culture along with stable economic activity and employment,” says the joint statement released Friday.

The B.C. Supreme Court trial heard that over 84 per cent of Blueberry River First Nations’ territory is within 500 metres of an industrial disturbance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2021. 

The Canadian Press