MLAs accused of unfairly turfing deal with Treaty 8 First Nation

B.C. opposition members are accusing Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm and Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad of tearing up a carefully negotiated agreement with B.C. First Nations.

The NDP says a 2014 land agreement with the Blueberry River First Nation was abandoned by the provincial government after Pimm formed a stakeholder committee focused on land use issues in the Peace region.

Pimm told CBC News he was given the green light by the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and the premier's office to launch a non-partisan stakeholder committee in the Peace to address issues around land use. 

According to a presentation made to the City of Fort St. John by Pimm, most of the members of the committee are outdoor user groups, hunting and fishing guides and local rod and gun clubs. Pimm says he invited all Treaty 8 First Nations to join but none did.

Following a phone call between the two, Rustad wrote Pimm in a letter dated Oct. 12, 2016. In it, he says the ministry is changing its policy of keeping negotiations confidential and developing new principles based on transparency. 

"To be even more specific, no lands will be transferred to a First Nation unless and until there has been appropriate engagement with stakeholders, local governments and members of the public," Rustad said.

He added that he would be willing to meet with Pimm's advisory committee.

A number of opposition members questioned Rustad about the 2014 agreement and Pimm's role in it during Tuesday's question period. The opposition critic for Aboriginal relations, Scott Fraser, challenged Pimm's track record on Indigenous issues.

"In 2014, [the Blueberry River First Nation] signed an agreement with the Liberals setting out land that would be used to settle their treaty land and title claim," Fraser said.

"Then, the member for Peace River North gets involved, a member who has voiced his contempt for First Nations ... and the minister of reconciliation torched the agreement, why?" 

Ministry says there was no such deal

But the ministry says no such agreement existed or was ever signed, adding there is a 'memorandum of understanding' between the band and the ministry on how to work together on land title issues, and that they have been working directly with the Blueberry River First Nation on engagement and reconciliation issues.

Pimm did not respond to comments made in question period about emails that were leaked to the Globe and Mail in 2012 that led to Pimm issuing a public apology.

"I deeply regret and apologize for my comments in regards to First Nations that appeared in the Globe and Mail," he said at the time.

In response to the opposition's challenges in question period, Rustad repeatedly highlighted what he called the government's efforts toward reconciliation, including ongoing and established treaty negotiations.

"There are so many things, madam speaker, that we are doing toward reconciliation. No other government in this country has advanced reconciliation like we have in the province of British Columbia," said Rustad.

The Blueberry River First Nation launched a legal challenge against the province in March of 2015. The ministry says its contact with the band since then has been limited. 

CBC requested an interview with Chief Marvin Yahey of the Blueberry River First Nation but did not hear back.