Dale Morgan, executive director, and Alanna Schroeder, regional director, Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, met with Dawson Creek city council at their October 30 meeting to provide a short presentation on Treaty 8 rights, in light of the 2021 Yahey v. British Columbia decision.
With the province having been found guilty of breaching treaty commitments to Blueberry River First Nations, Morgan says the focus has been about rebalancing the government’s relationship with Treaty 8 First Nations, which includes new agreements to guide land use and development.
“In the last two years, the province has had to reevaluate how it does its work with anybody who’s doing anything on the land base,” said Morgan. “And that’s what this is all about - fundamentally, it’s about trying to find out ways in which to manage for Treaty 8 rights first, and reset that balance.”
Since the Yahey decision, two agreements have signed with Blueberry River First Nations - an interim agreement in October 2021 and an implementation agreement in January 2023.
The agreement is a guide for a partnership approach to land, water and resource stewardship to protect Blueberry River members’ Treaty 8 rights, and provide a framework for industry to work within.
Detailed land use plans are being developed for the Liard, North and South Peace areas, explained Morgan, with a focus on protecting watersheds, wildlife, old growth forest, and riparian zones.
A consensus document was also signed by several other Treaty 8 First Nations, including Doig River, Halfway River, Saulteau, Fort Nelson, Prophet River, West Moberly, and McLeod Lake, guaranteeing similar protections and revenue sharing agreements.
“Now we have a very clear understanding from the various different nations, areas that they think are of interest and are important to them - which we always knew, and were always kind of trying to work through on maybe a permit by permit approach to deal with their interests,” said Morgan.
“Now, we really are targeting these areas, and there’s going to be, I think, fairly substantive changes to how we do management,” he added.
Coun. Charlie Parslow said he’s been rethinking what reconciliation really means, after reading former Liberal Party justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s book, admitting that the reality is more complicated than he originally considered.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had some things happen in the Peace Region that have really put, in my opinion, race relations backwards, rather than forwards,” said Parslow, asking what accountability models are contained in the agreements.
Morgan used the restoration fund as an example of accountability, noting the province has committed to providing $500 million over the next ten years to help heal the land through environmental protections.
“The idea of accountability is that the province would provide the funds, the province would provide oversight, there’s likely going to be a committee of some kind that would oversee the actual activities or oversee that those activities are being done,” said Morgan, noting any restoration activities would be evaluated once complete.
Mayor Darcy Dober asked if the province has plans to communicate the work being done and educate the public on what's been established though the Blueberry agreement, noting residents have also expressed concerns over moose hunting restriction and limited entries.
"There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding out there and at a municipal level we deal with a lot of that, you know, coming at us," said Dober. "So one, we lack the education a little bit on where everything's at, but also the general public, everyone's on pins and needles around this whole area and Treaty 8, where we're going - it just doesn't feel like there's a bunch of education out there."
Morgan says they're aware of the need for education, but noted the January 2023 agreement is still relatively new, with a lot to manage.
"We are actively going to hire a consultant who will help us develop a communication plan, which we'll then begin to implement," he said. "So, we're in that process right now of building some of those tools to really increase the awareness."