Compensation payments of C$65 million ($52 million) will save 195 shale gas and forestry projects affected by a June 29 Indigenous rights court verdict in northern British Columbia (BC), in an agreement between the tribal case winner and the provincial government.

To salvage projects approved before the verdict, the deal announced Thursday (Oct. 7) commits the province to give Blueberry First Nations C$35 million ($28 million) for environmental restoration and C$30 million ($24 million) for culture and education programs.

Another 20 previously approved projects deemed to be sensitive would be reviewed again, using a revised regulatory regime now under negotiation by Blueberry and provincial representatives. The court decision allows six months to craft improved rules.

In the June verdict, the BC Supreme Court ruled that the province broke Canada’s 1899 Treaty 8 with tribes in a northern BC and Alberta region bigger than France. Blueberry’s 15,200-square-mile territory includes the production heartland of the Montney Shale formation. 

Blueberry is one of 20 tribes that signed benefits agreements to let TC Energy Corp. build the C$6.6 billion ($5.3 billion) Coastal GasLink pipeline, now under construction across 416 miles of northern BC to LNG Canada’s Pacific export terminal for liquefied natural gas.

“The province may not continue to authorize activities that breach the [treaty] promises,” said the verdict. “The parties [the provincial government and Blueberry] must act with diligence to consult and negotiate for the purpose of establishing timely enforceable mechanisms to assess and manage the cumulative impact of industrial development.”

In a joint statement on the agreement signed Oct. 7, Blueberry Chief Marvin Yahey and BC Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin confirmed that the case was about fair treatment of Indigenous people, not prohibition against economic development.

“We want to emphasize that we are both committed to maintaining a healthy and sustainable economy in the region,” said Yahey and Rankin.

“We will work as quickly as possible to achieve a path that establishes sustainability and certainty for the benefit of everyone who lives and works here.”

Yahey and Rankin reported, “Our negotiation teams have already made progress together toward an interim approach for approved authorizations currently in the system, and our goal is to finalize it as soon as possible. This will promote stability for employers and workers in the territory and will allow us to begin the vital work of healing the land.”

Only Blueberry and the BC government appeared in the court case. Industry project sponsors already practice Indigenous participation that the verdict preaches.

“Our future focus is on creating long-term solutions for collaborative decision-making that protect treaty rights and manage the cumulative impacts of industrial development,” said Yahey and Rankin.

“We are committed to creating a balanced path in the territory, one that provides environmental sustainability that respects and protects Treaty 8 rights and Indigenous culture along with stable economic activity and employment.”

Another northern BC tribe, Saulteau First Nation, announced a plan to file its own version of the successful Blueberry lawsuit. “The cumulative impacts of forestry, oil and gas, agriculture, and other industries on our Treaty lands are beyond excessive,” said the Saulteau.