B.C. First Nation Sues Province for ‘Unprecedented Industrial Disturbance’ in Treaty 8 Territory

The Blueberry River First Nation from northeastern B.C. has filed a lawsuit against the province for allowing “unprecedented industrial disturbance” to threaten “their way of life,” according to a press statement released Wednesday.

The suit will call into question the future of industrial development in the northeast region of the province, including the Site C dam and natural gas fracking projects intended to feed B.C.’s burgeoning LNG industry.

The First Nation argues their territory “has been ravaged by development.”

“Blueberry’s ancestors would not recognize our territory today. It is covered by oil and gas wells, roads, pipelines, mines, clear cuts, hydro and seismic lines, private land holdings, and waste disposal sites, amongst other things," Chief Marvin Yahey said. “The pace and scale of development have accelerated in the last 25 years, and are now at unprecedented levels.”

Video showing cumulative impacts of industrial development in Treaty 8 territory.

The Blueberry tribe entered into Treaty 8 in 1900, agreeing to open the territory to development as long as their way of life, which includes hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering traditional plants, remain undisturbed.

“There are vast dark zones throughout our territory where we are no longer able to practice our treaty rights,” Chief Yahey said.

“It is the cumulative impact of the thousands of provincially authorized activities, from water withdrawals, to major industrial projects such as the Site C dam, which have destroyed our way of life and threaten our continued existence as a people.”

An estimated 90.8 per cent of the northeast portion of Territory 8, the Beatton watershed, has been disturbed, according to a Global Forest Watch Canada study from 2012.

When considering areas outside the Beatton watershed, an estimated 66 per cent of the region is considered disturbed by industry.

Increasing oil and gas development threaten to disturb remaining undeveloped areas and “the Site C dam threatens to flood a vast portion of the southern territory,” the press statement notes.

“Despite the devastating impacts of oil and gas activities on Blueberry’s way of life, we have received few economic benefits from the Province. Under previous agreements, we received less than 0.1 per cent of provincial oil and gas royalties, even though the bulk of these revenues come from our territory,” Chief Yahey said.

The Blueberry First Nation said the province has made “no meaningful response” to the threat of industrial encroachment or the issue of cumulative impacts.

The province continues to approve major projects, Chief Yahey said, “without full appreciation that each new approval brings our unique culture closer to extinction. This is a grave situation that the Province continues to ignore."

“We fear things will only get worse with the LNG ‘gold rush’ we are witnessing in our territory today."

Image Credit: Vancouver Observer 

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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