Blueberry River First Nations intends to take on a new petroleum and natural gas tenure, with a Jan. 31 letter sent to the Peace River Regional District by the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, authored and signed by April Connolly, Senior Advisor, First Nations Relations.    

The letter advises that the ministry is seeking to award the tenure to Blueberry as part of advancing principles and commitments made following the Yahey decision under the 2023 Blueberry River First Nations Implementation Agreement.

The 2021 Yahey decision ruled that the province had breached Blueberry River First Nations’s Treaty 8 rights by over-developing land in their territory, and the provincial government has not issued new permits for further development to avoid infringing treaty rights.

The tenure is located in Electoral Area B of the PRRD, by the Buckinghorse River, Sikanni Chief, and the Beatton River.

“The direct award of PNG tenure to First Nations provides First Nations with greater care and control over the development of natural resources within their traditional territories,” states the letter.

The new tenure would be awarded directly to a entity designated by Blueberry, and has a proposed term of 10 years to allow time to develop partnerships. Blueberry would also have the option to convert all of the tenure or a portion of it to a five-year lease before the term expires, and an option to sublet the PNG rights.

“For the Province, the direct award of PNG rights in the form of tenure to First Nations acts as an example of how development strategies can be improved to involve partnerships between the private sector and First Nations and also contributes to the Province’s ongoing pursuit of reconciliation,” adds the letter.

The information in the letter was provided by the Ministry to the PRRD for review and comment, with a response deadline of March 18.

PRRD directors discussed the letter at their Feb. 22 board meeting, and voted in favour of inviting Connolly to attend their next board meeting on March. 7, as directors want the opportunity to ask questions about the tenure process.

“I just think this was sent forward and it’s not something that we’ve seen before, and it seems to me like this was their attempt at consultation, so I think we should respond to it even if it is for more information,” said Electoral Area E Director Dan Rose, as he feels there’s a lot of ambiguous language used in the letter.

“Maybe they want to come and talk about this new process that’s jumped out. If this is part of reconciliation then let’s understand that,” added Rose, noting he’s also interested in learning about the history of the parcels in the tenure, whether the parcels were purchased back, and if other tenure holders have concerns.

Pouce Coupe Mayor Danielle Veach said she feels the letter was largely intended just to inform the PRRD about the tenure process, not for collaboration.

“They’re just letting us know that in regards to the Yahey verdict, this is what’s going forward,” said Veach, noting she might be misunderstanding.

Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen pointed out that the letter did state the information was for review and comment.

“But I do agree with Director Rose, I think it’s very important that we really fully understand when something’s in front of us,” she said.

Electoral Area B Director Jordan Kealy questioned if the letter was asking them to give input on mineral rights or if the province wants them to communicate the new tenure process to their constituents, and suggested a community to community (C2C) meeting with Blueberry as an alternative option.

“I think this is out of our wheelhouse. I think if we talk to Blueberry, it should be in the form of a C2C, and that we should actually see what their concerns are,” said Kealy. “There’s nothing I can do or say over this decision, period.”

Chair Brad Sperling said the PRRD doesn’t oppose the tenure, but would like more information on the process.

“It’s not that we’re against this, it’s a matter of understanding and learning,” said Sperling.

Electoral Area D Director Leonard Hiebert agreed it would be more appropriate to send a response to the Ministry.

“It’s the province that represents us right now in these discussions, and they’re asking for our feedback as they’re going through this process,” said Hiebert, noting the request for comment is a rare opportunity.

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