CHARLIE LAKE, B.C. – Blueberry River First Nation Chief Judy Desjarlais has responded to a second letter from the Red Creek and Charlie Lake Community Working Group.

The group had previously written a letter expressing their concerns over TLE Land Settlements, including decreased access to the backcountry through Red Creek.

Earlier this week, Energeticcity received the second letter from the head of the community group, Graham O’Day, who expressed enthusiasm at BRFN’s offer to work alongside residents in response to the group’s first letter.

“The article published on June 29th shows both the residual confusion and concern and the opportunity to work together constructively,” the letter reads.

“Now that settlement agreements have been reached, we appreciate your offer of a new opportunity for direct engagement. We welcome a structured approach to working together with BRFN,” O’ Day continued.

The letter continues by reiterating the resident’s concerns about potential environmental and water quality impacts on Charlie Lake should the First Nation decide to develop the adjacent parcels.

“As this area is vital for wildlife habitat and watershed integrity, our goal is to see the Charlie Lake watershed area preserved in perpetuity as a formal ecological reserve, potentially in partnership with an organization such as the Nature Trust of British Columbia,” O’Day writes.

Blueberry said previously that they have a profound cultural and spiritual connection with the land and that they will be seeking higher standards of environmental stewardship for the lake and that the Nation would “be an important ally for those who seek the same.”

In response, the community group said they appreciated those comments and look forward to establishing that alliance.

“We would welcome the establishment of a joint conservation working group under your leadership. Such a clear commitment would be a reassuring signal to local residents,” O’Day said.

Image of the Charlie Lake and Red Creek Land Parcels that were transferred to Blueberry River First Nation – Maxar Technologies CNES/Airbus Landsat/Copernicus Province of British Columbia

Desjarlais says as part of BRFN’s long-term land use planning process for TLE and other Blueberry Lands, the Nation will engage directly with Charlie Lake and Red Creek residents and other interested parties.

“Direct engagement will happen at the appropriate time within our planning process. Our plans for the use of our returned treaty land entitlement will be the subject of ongoing discussion with our members and will be driven by the needs and objectives of our people,” Desjarlais said.

“In the interim, no immediate decisions are being made about the TLE lands.”

Desjarlais continued by reiterating BRFN’s connection to the land.

“After decades of displacement, the return of this treaty land entitlement to our Nation allows us to once again govern these lands in accordance with our laws and values, which include commitments to enhanced environmental stewardship and strong relationships with our neighbours.”

When it comes to Red Creek, O’Day and the community group say that, while Blueberry has made significant efforts to accommodate resident interests, “considerable uncertainty” remains among residents who are unsure of the Nation’s plans for the area.

“[The uncertainty is] exacerbated by the additional pressure that Site C flooding will put on the Red Creek valley for both wildlife and outdoor recreation,” O’Day said.

He says that Red Creek residents would welcome direct conversations with the Nation to learn more about their intentions and plans for the area.

“In particular, more specific and granular details in terms of buffer zones, access corridors, traffic implications, and approaches to wildlife and recreational access would enable a more informed conversation driven by facts rather than fears.”

Desjarlais says Blueberry has already committed to significant accommodations to address the group’s concerns. She added that BRFN agreed with Indigenous affairs minister Murray Rankin’s assessment in an April 14th letter to the residents.

“[Rankin] notes, based on mitigation steps Blueberry has already taken, that the concerns of residents in both areas have been mitigated to the extent possible,” Desjarlais said.

In their letter, the group proposed some possible next steps, including a small, direct meeting between the Chief and Council and the group or a larger town hall meeting with band members and residents of both Red Creek and Charlie Lake.

In response, Desjarlais said that as BRFN proceeds with their planning process in the coming months and years, it will reach out directly to residents in both areas and other interested parties.

She adds that the Nation does not intend to conduct consultation or dialogue with its neighbours through the media.

Both groups finished their letters by expressing anticipation of continued discussions in the future.

Blueberry River First Nations membership ratified a historic TLE settlement on June 15th, with almost 80 per cent of members voting in favour.

As part of the settlement, Blueberry will receive lands that it should have acquired over 100 years ago based on a sacred promise from the Crown in Treaty 8.

Read the group’s full letter and Chief Desjarlais’ response below.

Spencer Hall is a news reporter for energeticcity.ca and a recent graduate of the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Radio Arts & Entertainment program. Growing up in Northwest B.C. made Spencer aware of the importance of local journalism, independent media, and reconciliation. In his spare time, you can find Spencer reading, playing video games, or at the FSJ dog park with his dog, Teddy.