The Province and Blueberry River First Nations have signed an agreement to establish a $65-million fund to begin land and wildlife restoration activities.

The ministry of Indigenous relations and BRFN made the announcement on Thursday, calling the initial agreement a first step in responding to the B.C. Supreme Court’s decision from earlier this year.

The First Nation has also agreed to allow 195 forestry and oil and gas projects that were approved before the court decision to proceed. However, 20 approved projects that interfere with areas of high cultural importance will not be able to continue without further negotiation and agreement from BRFN.

On June 29th, a judge found the Province infringed on the band’s treaty rights by allowing industrial development in the traditional territory. The court order stated the Province is no longer authorized to allow development activities that impact Treaty 8 rights of hunting, fishing and trapping.

“Blueberry people have been raising the alarm bells for years about the increasing destruction of our territory and our way of life,” says Blueberry River First Nations Chief Marvin Yahey.

Following the court ruling, Justice Emily Burke gave the two parties six months to work together to improve land management and permitting processes to recognize and respect Blueberry River’s treaty rights. The Province chose not to appeal the court’s decision after the 160-day trial.

“The court has issued a ruling in the strongest terms that puts an end to the government approval practices that have led us here. It has been a long battle and total vindication of Blueberry’s position. But now, with this ruling, we finally see government taking the historic importance of this moment seriously.”

The ministry says the newly developed fund will support land healing and create jobs for Nation members and business for service providers in the northeast region.

The ministry listed off the following activities that will be conducted:

The ministry says $30 million will also be allocated to protect the First Nation’s culture and land, which will include:

The Province and the First Nation are now working to finalize a procedure to review new natural resource activities that balance Treaty 8 rights, the economy and the environment.

“We are pleased to sit here with government today to announce a good faith first step in the journey to begin to heal the land, while supporting stability in our region. There is a lot more work to do. In the end, upholding the promises of Treaty 8 will be for the benefit of us all,” says Yahey.

The ministry says after an interim approach is reached, the two parties will negotiate long-term solutions.

The Province has also started a dialogue with the other Treaty 8 Nations. The ministry says the discussions will pertain to advancing new environmental restoration work and involving the Nations to develop a new approach on planning and authorizing natural resource projects.

Regular updates and requests for input will be provided to Blueberry members, industry, local governments and northeast residents.

Both sides have appointed specialists to help them move forward with negotiations.

Lorne Brownsey is the Province’s lead negotiator, and Bob Chamberlin will serve as a special adviser to support the involvement of other Treaty 8 Nations, local governments and industry, according to the Province. Ratcliff LLP will serve as legal counsel for Blueberry River First Nations in the negotiations.