Photo: Industrial damage threatens Blueberry River's way of life

Within Blueberry River First Nations traditional territory, there are 9,435 oil and gas facilities, primarily test facilities (6,210) and battery sites (1,120).
(Photo Credit: 2016 Atlas of Cumulative Landscape Disturbance)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Science Projects Manager Rachel Plotkin.

Industrial activity has profoundly affected the Blueberry River First Nations in northern B.C. A recent Atlas of Cumulative Landscape Disturbance, by the First Nations, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecotrust, found 73 per cent of the area inside its traditional territory is within 250 metres of an industrial disturbance and 85 per cent is within 500 metres.

In other words, in much of the territory, which once supported healthy moose and caribou populations, it's difficult if not impossible to walk half a kilometre before hitting a road, seismic line or other industrial infrastructure. Local caribou populations are threatened with extinction mainly because of habitat disturbance caused by industrial activity and ensuing changes to predator-prey dynamics.

Subscribe to Science Matters

Scientific literature suggests that a natural functioning landscape with species including large predators requires a maximum density limit of 0.6 kilometres of linear disturbances — roads and seismic and transmission lines — per square kilometre. The report revealed Blueberry River has 2.88 kilometres of linear disturbance per square kilometre, totalling 110,300 kilometres — including 45,603 kilometres of seismic lines constructed over the past 10 years, nearly eight times the length of the Trans-Canada Highway from Vancouver to Halifax.

Foundation science projects manager Rachel Plotkin recently toured the area with Chief Marvin Yahey and lands manager Norma Pyle. They showed her clearcuts in caribou calving grounds, hunting camps dissected by pipelines and giant oil-processing plants where elders once picked blueberries.

"Development has extinguished our traditional way of life on wide areas of our land," Yahey said, noting most of the damage has occurred over the past 30 years.

Plotkin said travelling across the landscape was surreal. "From far back, it looked like a forest ecosystem, though dotted with farmers' fields," she said. "But no matter which road we drove down, we saw signs of the extraordinarily high levels of industrial activity — a pumpjack peeking from amid the trees, a sign on the road warning of a high-pressure pipeline hidden below, a sour gas flare above the treeline, a forestry clearcut, a processing plant or a pipeline riser."

As a last resort, Blueberry River First Nations brought a civil claim against the B.C. government in 2015, asserting that cumulative industrial impacts in their territory have displaced and prevented people from carrying on traditional activities assured to them by the Crown under Treaty 8.

The B.C. government responded to the report by saying it's working on a cumulative effects framework. "We recognize the importance of assessing, monitoring and managing the cumulative effects of resource development," B.C. Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad wrote in a statement to the Dawson Creek Mirror. "Several attempts have been made to get Blueberry River First Nations involved in Northeast cumulative effects (management) programs."

This response is lacking on several levels. To start, it attempts to address an immediate ecological crisis by proposing that the community engage in ongoing, sometimes years-long processes. As Chief Yahey told the Mirror, "Despite raising these concerns directly with the premier and with provincial ministers, there has been no meaningful response to this critical threat. Instead, the province continues to approve major industrial undertakings in our territory, including major fracking operations and the Site C dam, willfully ignoring that each new approval brings our unique culture closer to extinction."

For the ministry in charge of reconciliation to respond defensively rather than open doors to better co-operation with Blueberry River is troubling. Although the government says it recognizes the importance of managing cumulative effects, the report's map of industrial activity reveals that if government has a sustainable management regime, it's broken.

The people of Blueberry River recently shared with government their Land Stewardship Framework, which outlines a path to sustainable land management, protection and restoration. What they need from government now is immediate action to protect critical areas and to be included in decision-making. Process without interim measures can be a trap — a talk-and-frack situation.

No one should have to put up with such high levels of destructive industrial activity, especially when they aren't given a say in decisions. When governments have committed to reconciliation with First Nations they need to change their decision-making regimes and recognize that First Nations have the right and responsibility to make decisions about how their traditional territories are managed, now and into the future.

July 21, 2016

Read more

Post a comment


Jul 23, 2016
4:20 AM

This statement below is ridiculous. “Several attempts have been made to get Blueberry River First Nations involved in Northeast cumulative effects (management) programs.” It presumes that the Northeast Cumulative Effects Management Programs (NCEMP) is real, that it carries its own authority ‘over’ the ‘Blueberry River First Nations’ history, home and ownership, authority and expertise of the land. It is a condescending standpoint relying upon the abstraction of negotiations and cost. The latter of which is the future — a future which is priceless in reality because destruction is a mindless activity of transforming the real value of life into paper dollars or figures on online banking screens all of which relies on belief in these figures of which you cannot eat. This system of belief furthers its religious practices and superstitions by creating ephemeral entities which support it called the law which sustains itself and these absurd ‘wishes’ by using legal jargon believing that the population is afraid of it and will respond to its bullying requisites of wasting time and hiding behind a fog of mystifying ‘power’. Trouble is though, the knowledge of land and longevity is known, has been tested over centuries and whole populations lives have relied upon its huge and real geography as a provider. This geography has intergenerational depth and history of many particularities as to its real needs for sustainabibity yet the indigenous never get to state these ‘facts’ as valid despite the longevity of the resulting healthy land practices because the law is totally reliant upon these real truths to be ‘transformed’ into abstraction/religion of industry ( a belief of what it is in economic terms as opposed to what it is in real life terms). Because the indigenous people of this land knows what it is as a truth it kind of makes the legality of government wishes ‘redundant’ as supportive in view of its own and radically opposite interests of making the land into money for all that handle it outside of indigenous interests. Therefore, the role of law is to ‘change’ the reality into ephemeral meritocratic clap trap in order to scrape up a considerable slice of the ‘expected’ profits from the company which justifies the need of the law to make nonsense of the issues in order to do so while lining their own pockets with massives amounts more. Don’t forget damage to the earth is the imperative to do this — to please the energy companies and the law — to act as providers for both

Jul 23, 2016
3:29 AM

I do not wish to appear of even be rude but over the years of reading indigenous and governmental clashes over land issues I have come to realise that rhetoric is only the tool of government and not truth. Government uses sublime, academic language, convoluted job titles of expertise, and long arduous and costly processes covering up the dire need to act immediately while these processes are ‘believed’ by the indigenous as ‘necessary’. In essence this article should be stating that Treaty 8 is overtly being violated with the government’s ‘blessing’ and ‘go ahead’. This should be treated as a punishable crime not ‘an issue’ to be ‘negotiated’ in corporate time as opposed to immediate time.

Jul 22, 2016
9:10 AM

The River Far to the North lies a river, wild mystery flowing down, only the natives know, the way to the sacred ground. The mist in the trees shields the secrets of this ancient, hidden place, where the Elders lived so long ago, almost vanished without a trace. Just one returns to remember, a young boy on the shore, recalling every detail engraved within his soul. He hears the song of the river, the call of the moose and loon, the chanting of the women come here to greet him home. You see, it isn’t a kill that’s the value, nor timber, oil or gold. It’s the deep connection between man and the land where the sacred place unfolds.

The David Suzuki Foundation does not necessarily endorse the comments or views posted within this forum. All contributors acknowledge DSF's right to remove product/service endorsements and refuse publication of comments deemed to be offensive or that contravene our operating principles as a charitable organization. Please note that all comments are pre-moderated. Privacy Policy »