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‘A bill that’s gone unpaid’: 5 B.C. First Nations receive cash, land settlements from province, feds

Longstanding claims stem from treaty signed in 1899
Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, during an announcement in Ottawa, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. The federal minister was part of an announcement in Vancouver April 15, 2023 announcing “long past due” cash and land settlement claims for five B.C. First Nations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Five B.C. First Nations will be receiving a “long past due” cash and land settlements from the federal and provincial governments respectively.

Announced Saturday (April 15), five of the Treaty 8 Nations – Saulteau, Halfway River, Doig River, Blueberry River and West Moberly – are receiving $800 million from the Canadian government, as well as more than 109,000 acres of land from the B.C. government.

The announcement included B.C. Premier David Eby, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller, along with Treaty 8 First Nations Chiefs: Justin Napoleon from Saulteau, Judy Desjarlais from Blueberry River, Darlene Hunter from Halfway River and Coun. Dean Dokkie and former chief George Desjarlais from West Moberly.

Miller said the cash settlement is a “bill that’s gone unpaid” by the federal government. He said the amount was not made proactive public because of “the stigma that occurs with a perceived ‘windfall’ that this could be for communities.”

“This isn’t a windfall. It’s not free money. It’s a bill that’s gone unpaid for over 100 years by the Government of Canada. So if there’s any stigma and prejudice to be levelled on anyone, it should be levelled on the Government of Canada and not on our treaty partners whose obligations we disrespected for 100 years.”

Miller added that for more than a centure, the Crown “failed Doig River, failed Blueberry River, Halfway River, West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations by not upholding its obligations as a treaty partner.”

“You’ve been pushing for this resolution for your claims for far too long,” Miller told the attendees during the announcement in Vancouver.

Meantime, the province was responsible for approximately 44,266 hectares of Crown land to the First Nations. In a related agreement, the Province of Alberta has also agreed to provide an amount of land to the Doig River First Nation in that province.

Rankin said the amount of land is a little more than the size of the cities of Vancouver and Surrey combined.

He said the land falls into two categories: shortfall lands that should have been provided at the time of the treaty and additional lands the province has made available.

“This is about righting an injustice,” noted Rankin.

Saulteau First Nation Chief Justin Napoleon explained the history of the treaty and how their ancestors signed it “on the basis of good faith.”

“Sadly, that is not what happened.”

Napoleon said the First Nations were short-changed thousands of acres of land.

We lost access to our lands, our way of life and the ability to generate wealth on our land that we deemed necessary,” he said, noting that industry further eroded their ability to use the land.

Blueberry River Chief Judy Desjarlaid wished that elders that had been part of this fight for decades could be here.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said, explaining it was a process of close to three decades.

George Desjarlais, a former chief of West Moberly, didn’t think he would be around to see it come to fruition.

“Here I am, I get to see the end of this – at least this go around anyways. We still have lots to fight about. We always will.”

In January, four of Treaty 8 First Nations – Fort Nelson, Saulteau, Halfway River and Doig River First Nations – reached an land-management consensus with the province.

READ MORE: 4 B.C. First Nations reach land-management consensus with province

READ MORE: B.C. government, Blueberry River First Nation reach land management agreement

Details of the consensus document include a restoration fund that sees the province contribute more than $600 million over ten years toward restoration. That figures includes the $200 million restoration fund announced as part of the agreement with Blueberry River First Nation.

That same month, the province and Blueberry River First Nation announced they had reached a land management agreement following a 2021 B.C. Supreme Court decision. It had found B.C. had infringed upon the nation’s Treaty 8 rights because of the cumulative impacts of industrial development over decades.

Treaty 8 was first completed in 1899 and included eight First Nations: Blueberry River, Doig River, Fort Nelson, Halfway River, McLeod Lake, Prophet River, Saulteay and West Moberly.

– With files from Wolf Depner

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Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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