Five First Nations in British Columbia to receive 443 sq km of crown lands

Apr 16 2023, 4:39 am

As a historic reconciliation move, a significant land transfer will be made to five First Nations in British Columbia with century-plus-old outstanding land claims.

The federal and provincial governments announced on Saturday afternoon they have reached a settlement to transfer a combined total of 443 sq km of crown lands to these First Nations, plus $800 million in compensation from the federal government.

The size of the land area being transferred from crown lands in BC to the respective First Nations is equivalent to 443 Stanley Parks put together, the combined land area of the municipalities of Vancouver, Surrey, and New Westminster, or the City of Montreal on its own.

The First Nations on the receiving end of this settlement are located in northeastern BC.

This includes the Blueberry River First Nation in the Peace region of BC, the Doig River First Nation in the upper Peace River region of both BC and Alberta (about 70 km northeast of Fort St. John), Halfway River First Nation located north of Halfway River (about 75 km northwest of Fort St. John), Saulteau First Nation located at Moberly Lake (100 km southwest of Fort St. John), and West Moberly First Nation on Moberly Lake.

“This is a monumental day for the Blueberry River First Nations community, our Elders and the ancestors who came before us. This settlement is part of an ongoing process of recognition and healing from Blueberry’s long and difficult history of displacement and marginalization within our traditional territory,” said Chief Judy Desjarlais of the Blueberry River First Nation in a statement.

In a related agreement, the Government of Alberta has also agreed to provide crown land within its provincial jurisdiction to the Doig River First Nation, given that the band’s land claims cross the BC-Alberta border.

This resolves claims that these five First Nations did not receive all of the land they were supposed to gain under Treaty 8, which they signed in 1899.

Treaty 8’s land allocation to the First Nations was based on providing 128 acres of land per person or 160 acres per person if they were living away from their reserve. However, a federal census performed shortly after the signing did not accurately count the number of people due to many members of the Indigenous communities being away for seasonal activities.

The financial portion of the settlement provided by the federal government is intended to be compensation for losses and costs from not being able to use and benefit from thousands of acres of land owed to them under Treaty 8, which were instead taken and developed by others.

“A truth that cannot be ignored is that, for far too long, promises, trust and relationships with Indigenous Peoples were broken because Canada did not live up to its obligations as a Treaty partner. Now, we must work together to address that legacy and to renew our relationships to last generations,” said Marc Miller, the federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

BC Premier David Eby added: “Honouring Treaty 8 is a critical part of BC’s work to advance reconciliation in the Peace River area and reconnect these Nations with their land. By settling the Treaty Land Entitlement claims, we’re righting an historic injustice and restoring what was promised under Treaty. This is an important step that will provide greater predictability and economic opportunities for everyone in the region.”

The finalization of this settlement follows decades of negotiations initiated by the First Nations to pursue their claims.

According to the federal government, between April 2022 and March 2023, a total of 56 specific claims were resolved for $3.52 billion in compensation, and since 1973 nearly 700 specific claims have been resolved.

“We are very happy to have finally reached a settlement with BC and Canada,” said Chief Justin Napoleon of the Saulteau First Nation.

“Our Elders, our community and our past leaders worked for decades to mend this broken treaty promise. They never lost faith and they proved that it can be done. We are grateful for the support that we’ve received from neighbouring communities and people across the region.”

Some of these First Nations are also significantly impacted by the Site C hydroelectric dam, located on the Peace River near Fort St. John, and they previously signed separate settlement agreements with the BC government and BC Hydro.

Currently under construction, the Site C dam is scheduled to reach completion in 2025, and it will produce enough clean electricity to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes. Its reservoir will be about 83 km long, and its width will be, on average, two to three times the width of the current river. The reservoir will have a total area of roughly 100 sq km, with about 56 sq km being flooded land.

According to the provincial government, over 880,000 sq km of land within BC is deemed to be provincial crown land. About 94% of BC’s land area is provincial crown land, which means BC has the second largest area and percentage of provincial crown land amongst the provinces. BC’s four general types of land ownership are private lands, First Nations treaty settlement land, provincial crown land, and federal crown land.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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