‘We have no agreement’: Blueberry River First Nations speaks out against proposed hunting closures

Blueberry River First Nations Chief Judy Desjarlais says her community had no involvement with the province’s …

Blueberry River First Nations Chief Judy Desjarlais says her community had no involvement with the province’s proposal to cut the number of moose that can be harvested in Northeast BC.

“We have no agreement in regards to that decision by the province, what they’ve decided to do, regarding the funding,” said Desjarlais. “That was their own action, it had nothing to do with Blueberry, because we have not reached any agreement with the province, especially with the wildlife impact pertaining to the treaty rights litigation.”

She added that the nation remains at the negotiating table, following their legal victory last summer in winning a cumulative impacts claim against the province.

“We’re working with the province to make it clear that Blueberry had no hand in their decision when it comes to reducing the number of moose hunted,” Desjarlais noted.

Under the new terms, caribou hunts would be closed permanently in the Peace region, while the number of killable moose would be slashed to 50 per cent, in addition to cutting the number of hunting licenses available to 50 per cent.

Moose hunting would also be closed from August 15th to 31st, and October 1st to 15th in the Peace.

According to a regulation release earlier this month by the province, the hunting changes are expected to be an interim measure and one part of a broader package of actions specific to improving wildlife stewardship, upholding Treaty rights, habitat conservation, and the future of resource management.

“These proposed hunting regulations are aimed at addressing the ability of Treaty 8 First Nations to continue their way of life and begin to address the impacts of industrial development of the rights guaranteed in this Treaty as confirmed in the Supreme Court of BC decision Yahey vs. BC,” reads the release.

Desjarlais said she’s unable to comment on what Blueberry wants to see for moose and caribou management as they remain at the negotiating table with the province.

“We’re still at the table, but first and foremost, we would like our Treaty rights protected. As you know from past posts, Treaty rights have been breached when comes to impact by development,” said Desjarlais. “The result of that is that is there was a threat to our way of life, which is hunting, fishing, and trapping.”

South Peace MLA Mike Bernier spoke with Energeticcity last week and said he’s concerned the province is creating a racial divide in the Peace with their proposed moose and caribou hunting restrictions.

Bernier believes that the government’s decision is based solely on politics.

“My fear is, and what I’m starting to hear, is that the government is actually creating and continually creating almost a racial divide here. I feel very bad for the First Nations in our region who are being caught in the middle because the government’s making announcements without talking to people without talking to all of the stakeholders and all of the different clubs,” Bernier said.

“The challenge there is I’m even hearing from a lot of First Nations locally that are contacting me kind of off the record saying they are getting very frustrated with the government trying to put them in the middle of this.”

Minister of Forests Katrine Conroy rebuked Bernier’s comments and says the regulations are an attempt to create a better future for everyone residing in the Peace.

“Mr. Bernier’s attempts to stoke racial divides are disturbing and frankly represent an outdated approach. In 2019, all members of the B.C. legislature stood together to support enshrining the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law. Our government remains dedicated to living up to that commitment,” Conroy said.

“Our goal is to bring communities together, not divide them. It’s important to remember that these conversations are focused on addressing the ability of Treaty 8 First Nations to continue their way of life and the impacts of industrial development on their rights,” Conroy said.

Conroy says she has personally met with B.C.’s hunting community members to ensure their views are heard as part of this process.

With files from Spencer Hall

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