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Four more Treaty 8 nations sign land use agreement

Agreement attempts to balance econcomic development with Crown obligations to treaty
Saulteau First Nation Chief Justin Napoleon, right, with Coatal GasLink president Bevin Wirzba, in heart of B.C. natural gas fields. | CGL

Four more First Nations belonging to Treaty 8 have signed an agreement with the province on a land and resource use agreement for northeastern B.C.

Earlier this week, the province announced an agreement with the Blueberry River First Nation that will limit industrial development like forestry and oil and gas extraction in the First Nations traditional territory to address the cumulative impacts that constituted a breach of treaty rights.

The Blueberry River First Nation are in the Fort St. John area, which is in the heart of B.C. Montney natural gas play in Northeastern B.C.

The agreement was a result of consultations that took place after the BC Supreme Court found that decades of industrial development in the Blueberry River First Nations’ traditional territory constituted a breach of treaty rights.

The Blueberry River First Nation are among the few indigenous groups in B.C. to ever sign an historical treaty. The rest of B.C. remains largely unceded through historical treaties, though a few modern-day treaties have been signed over the last three decades. Treaty 8 covers a vast area of northern Saskatchewan, Alberta and the northeast corner of B.C.

The agreement with the Blueberry River First Nation will have impacts on industries like forestry and oil and gas extraction, but at least gives industry and government some certainty over what can and cannot occur in the First Nations’ traditional territory.

On Friday, the B.C. government announced four more Treaty 8 First Nations in northeastern B.C. have also now signed a consensus agreement on land and resource use: the Doig River, Halfway River, Fort Nelson and Saulteau First Nations.

The consensus agreement sets out the parameters for upholding treaty rights, addressing environmental impacts through restoration, and supporting “responsible resource development and economic activity in the northeast.”

"For many years our treaty rights have been neglected and discounted, and our treaty lands and our communities have been fragmented by the cumulative impacts of poorly planned land-use decisions,” said Chief Justin Napoleon of the Salteau First Nation.

“This new agreement shows that this government intends to work with us to find new ways for co-management and true partnership. We believe that we can protect environmental and cultural values, and support communities through better planning for long-term and sustainable economic activity."

"The consensus document offers a new way of working together based on ongoing relationships, not one-off transactions,” said Josie Osborne, minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation.

“It sets a collective table over a larger, shared First Nations territory to discuss interests in healing the land, protection of treaty rights, and in development activities and economic opportunities.This is the way of the future for natural-resource development in British Columbia, and it will build greater certainty and stability across the landscape for British Columbians and industry.”

Given that Treaty 8 First Nations occupy the natural gas producing region of northeastern B.C., the Blueberry River court decision caused some uncertainty for the oil and gas sector and nascent LNG industry.

A number of permits were held in abeyance, pending the negotiations between the province and Treaty 8 nations.

The oil and gas industry appears to be greeting this week's announcements with some relief and optimism.

"Tourmaline is pleased with this new framework for oil and gas development that will create significant prosperity for the people and the province, for Blueberry River First Nations and all the Treaty 8 First Nations of B.C., and for industry," said Michael Rose, CEO of Torumaline Oil (TSX:TOU), one of the biggest natueal gas producers in B.C.

"CAPP and our members appreciate the diligent efforts of the Province of B.C. and the Doig River, Halfway River, Fort Nelson and Saulteau First Nations to reach this detailed agreement," said Lisa Baiton, CEO of the Canadian Association of Oil Producers (CAPP).

"This, along with the Blueberry River First Nations agreement, is a positive step forward. We are looking forward to gaining a better understanding of the details within the agreements."

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