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Province fires back on Blueberry River FN's cumulative effects claims

First Nation says province not doing enough to prevent resource development from impacting Treaty 8 rights
A well pad on Blueberry River First Nations traditional territory.

Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad is firing back after the Blueberry River First Nations' (BRFN) called out the provincial government last week for not doing enough to protect land use rights under Treaty 8.

BRFN released the 2016 Disturbance Atlas report to the public June 28, detailing how resource development on the land has impacted the nation's ability to continue traditional practices such as hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering medicinal plants. The nation filed a 2015 law suit in the BC Supreme Court along the same lines.

In a statement emailed to the Dawson Creek Mirror the same day as the release of the report, Rustad said the government is renewing its attempts to involve BRFN in its ongoing cumulative assessment projects.

"Several attempts have been made to get Blueberry River First Nations involved in Northeast cumulative effects (management) programs," Rustad wrote. 

The government announced a cumulative effects framework in May.

"The framework provides policy, procedures and tools to improve the consideration of cumulative effects in natural resource decision making," Rustad said. 

Rustad also pointed to the province's liquefied natural gas environmental stewardship initiative which includes the Regional Strategic Environmental Assessment (RESA) agreement  — a partnership between the Doig River, Halfway River, Prophet River, Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations. 

The government said a RESA project team made up of members from these First Nations, the province and natural gas industry proponents met Nov. 30 to begin planning this work. The next steps include submitting a budget and work plan for review.

"We recognize the importance of assessing, monitoring and managing the cumulative effects of resource development," Rustad said. "We are renewing our attempts to have BRFN join our regional initiatives."

BRFN Chief Marvin Yahey said that the province's initiatives thus far have not done the job. 

"Despite raising these concerns directly with the premier and with provincial ministers, there has been no meaningful response to this critical threat," Yahey said. "Instead, the province continues to approve major industrial undertakings in our territory, including major fracking operations and the Site C dam, willfully ignoring that each new approval brings our unique culture closer to extinction."

As a result, the nation began its own study of the cumulative impacts called the Land Stewardship Framework. BRFN said it will offer a "science-based solution" to the issues it outlines, and a pathway to "sustainable development" in the area.

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