Blueberry River and Doig River First Nations gathered Monday to sign a historic treaty land entitlement agreement more than 20 years in the making, settling land debts still owed from the signing of Treaty 8.
Chiefs and councils signed the settlement agreements with each other, the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia, and the Province of Alberta, moving their communities forward into a new era. Over 5,000 hectares of land will be returned to the two nations, including land near K’ih Tsaa?dze Tribal Park and Petersen’s Crossing.
Doig Chief Trevor Makadahay said the signing honours elders and councils from generations past, with many not being able to see their work come to fruition. Just a fresh young band councillor in 1999, he says their struggles should never be forgotten.
“It’s really important, especially for both communities, that we remember the people we lost – we have to think back about them. They’re the ones that struggled and they don’t see any of it, they don’t see the cultural lands we all picked in territories to take care of,” said Makadahay.
Makadahay expressed his gratitude for the legal groundwork laid by his elders and his community, noting the inaction by government. In 1999, the nations submitted their claim to the federal government to settle outstanding land owed through Treaty 8. By 2004, the Crown had accepted the claim for negotiation.
“I think back about all the tough times we had, and all the promises the government made us. In 2005, we actually bought some property in Fort St. John, six acres of industrial land. And the government said, ‘next year’. We’ve been here 'next year' for 23 years, and finally we’ve got some documents to sign,” he said.
Blueberry Chief Judy Desjarlais says the lands included in the settlement reflect values identified by their members, wishing that past Blueberry leaders could see their vision come to life.
“With the two nations coming together and being united in the end goal of what our people actually want - to get this settled. We did lose a lot of elders that contributed to this case and what we want to see is elders who are still with us see this day to pass.” she said. "History has been made today."
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.
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