Blueberry River First Nation Wins Landmark Treaty Rights Case
In the first case of its kind in Canada, the BC Supreme Court ruled on June 29th, 2021 that the province failed to adhere to its obligations to the Blueberry River First Nation under Treaty 8. The Treaty mandates that all signatory Nations be allowed to practice their traditional modes of hunting, trapping, and fishing.
Justice Emily Burke agreed with the novel argument advanced by Ratcliff’s Maegen Giltrow and Lisa Glowacki that the cumulative encroachment of Blueberry territory by provincial development projects effectively barred members of the Nation from exercising their rights and amounted to a breach of Treaty 8. Notably, Justice Burke emphasized how Treaty 8 promised a way of life, not simply rights to undertake certain activities. She explained that, “Blueberry’s treaty rights […] have been significantly and meaningfully diminished when viewed within the way of life in which these rights are grounded.”
In addition to a declaration of the treaty breach, Ms. Giltrow and Ms. Glowacki obtained a declaration from the Court that the province must cease authorizing all activities which breach the Nation’s Treaty 8 rights, subject to a six-month grace period in which it is envisioned that the parties will expeditiously negotiate transitioning away from the current regulatory regime. The judgment opens up a greater role for First Nations in designing protections and management systems for their lands, and ensures that further public development is consistent with Treaty promises.