Blueberry River First Nations lawsuit threatens Site C, fracking in B.C.
Suit alleges government violated Treaty 8 rights with cumulative impacts of oil and gas development
The Blueberry River First Nations have launched a legal battle that could affect B.C.'s planned Site C hydroelectric dam, as well as oil and gas development both inside and outside the band's territory.
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The B.C. First Nation has filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court that alleges years of development, including mining, forestry and oil and gas projects, have violated its treaty rights under Treaty 8.
"The province is not abiding by our treaty rights that were given to us back in 1900," said Chief Marvin Yahey of the Blueberry River First Nations.
The band has raised concerns about hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - for natural gas in their territory for more than a decade, but the B.C. government hasn't listened, said Yahey.
He said Blueberry River First Nations want the Site C dam and other projects slowed to provide time for consultation, which he called "disappointing" to date.
"There has always been talk, yes, but never a meaningful consultation to address our concerns," said Yahey.
The area the band claims as its traditional territory is located in northeastern B.C. and includes the city of Fort St. John and the location of the proposed Site C dam.
It's also the area that has seen rapid development in the natural gas sector.
Yahey said only a "very small" percentage of Blueberry River First Nations' 470 band members make a living in the industry.
B.C. government calls lawsuit 'unfortunate'
In a statement, the B.C. government said it is "committed to consulting with Blueberry River First Nations and all Treaty 8 First Nations" on decisions that affect their hunting, fishing and trapping treaty rights.
"We remain committed to reaching a respectful, long-term government-to-government relationship," said Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad in a statement.
He said he had been meeting with Chief Yahey and the Blueberry River First Nations.
"It's unfortunate Blueberry River has chosen the path of litigation," wrote Rustad.
The Blueberry River First Nations are alleging that more than 90 per cent of their territory has been disrupted by development. Click here for maps comparing industrial activity today to 50 years ago.
With files from Canadian Press and Pierre Martineau