Cumulative impact is something the B.C. government does not like to talk about when consulting First Nations about resource developments.
Government prefers to look at projects in isolation. So, Site C on the Peace River, for example, is assessed on its own, not in the context of all the oil-and-gas activity taking place in the region.
That is not how native communities see things. To them, the question is not only what impact an individual project will have – but also what it will mean alongside all the other industrial activities in an area. And when game populations are dwindling, that becomes a crucial factor.
To make this point, the Blueberry River First Nation recently put together a time-lapse map that shows the rapid buildup of oil-and-gas projects in their traditional territory. Roads, pipelines, seismic drill sites and wells collect on the map until what was once a pristine area in northeastern B.C. is cluttered with symbols of industrial activity.
Gas wells in Blueberry River territory (5,786 active) now outnumber the declining woodland caribou (approximately 1,000).
The band prepared the map in the hope it could get the province to set aside 20,000 acres of land from development near Pink Mountain. The band, which totals 450 members on two reserves near Fort St. John, has been trying to get control of the land, but negotiations broke down recently. Talks stalled when the province, which has offered 7,200 acres, demanded that the band, which is a signatory to Treaty 8, give up its claim to treaty rights in all the other land in the traditional territory.
The band refused, saying the move was an attempt to strip them of their hunting and fishing rights to clear the way for unrestrained gas development.
That fear is well founded, because the Blueberry River people live in an area that sits right on top of the Montney shale-gas formation. Exploration has shown the area is stunningly rich in gas deposits, and its rapid development is a key to the Liberal government's plan to stimulate the economy.
A lot of the gas that would supply proposed liquefied natural gas plants on the West Coast would come from Montney.
So the Blueberry leaders see a considerable threat, and they want to ensure that Pink Mountain is protected now – before the map is totally blotted out by development.
"The cumulative impact of oil-and-gas development in Blueberry traditional territory has been devastating," the band said in a recent statement. "In particular, the accelerated pace of shale-gas extraction during the last 10 years has permanently altered Blueberry's lands and water and members' ability to practise their constitutionally protected treaty rights."
The band has long regarded Pink Mountain as sacred because it is rich in game and is one of the few areas left that sustain their hunting lifestyle.
Saving Pink Mountain, and getting ownership of that land, is seen as a matter of cultural survival.
"Our traditional ways and culture are dying because of shale-gas development," said Marvin Yahey, Chief of the Blueberry River First Nation. "Oil and shale-gas extraction approved by B.C. has resulted in the eradication of our preferred hunting and trapping areas. This will only get worse during the LNG gold rush that is going on now."
Five pipelines are proposed across the band's traditional lands. The area has been extensively logged. BC Hydro's proposed Site C dam would flood a river valley the band has hunted for thousands of years.
And the time-lapse map tells the story of just how rapidly oil-and-gas development is taking place.
In isolation, each well does not do much damage. But add them all together, link them to all the other industrial activity, and it is devastating.
The government may not want to look at it that way, but for the Blueberry band that is the big picture, and they are likely to protest until it is dealt with.
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