Judy Desjarlais, Chief of Blueberry River First Nations, received death threats via voicemail last week, CBC News reports. Desjarlais believes the threats were made in response to recently proposed changes to moose and caribou hunting regulations in the Peace region of northeastern British Columbia. These changes were proposed by the B.C. provincial government, and while the people of Blueberry First Nations have not agreed to any of the changes, they are directly related to the First Nations’ treaty rights to hunt and fish on traditional lands.
“Nobody ever expects to get these calls but it’s something out of anger and not being educated in the right manner,” Desjarlais said of the voicemails.
The threats have been condemned by local officials and law enforcement agencies. Other organizations involved in the proposal have also condemned the actions, including the British Columbia Wildlife Federation, which wrote in a recent tweet that “threats and racism are completely unacceptable and in no way represent the attitudes of resident hunters.”
“We are shocked and angered after learning of recent threats of violence made against members of Blueberry River First Nations,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations, Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, and Desjarlais in a joint statement issued this past Friday.
The proposal to close caribou hunting and curtail moose hunting in the Peace region is a direct response to a 2021 court ruling that found the province to be in violation of Treaty No. 8. The ruling specifically applies to a portion of the treaty that “protects the Indigenous signatories’ and adherents’ rights to hunt, trap and fish in the Treaty area,” and it found British Columbia to be in violation of the treaty due to continued development and resource extraction on Blueberry River First Nation lands. The ruling stated that these activities have had a negative impact on wildlife and the indigenous people’s ability to maintain their way of life.
“Blueberry River First Nations is not against hunting. We believe moose have been affected by overdevelopment and that some temporary protections are required in some areas,” Desjarlais clarified.
No final decisions have been made regarding the proposal, but the proposed changes have drawn plenty of resistance from local hunters and outfitters. In a recent press release, the BCWF criticized the changes, stating: “The proposed agreement will severely curtail moose hunting for British Columbians in areas with the highest moose densities in B.C. while negotiations on permitting for industrial activities continue.”
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The BCWF explained that under the proposed regulations, moose hunting would be cut by as much as 50 percent, and the local economy would lose roughly $14-16 million in hunting-related economic activity. The federation argues that the changes are meant to benefit unsustainable resource extraction projects and essentially trade away British Columbians’ hunting rights and privileges.
“This is not a wildlife management issue; this is a political issue,” said BCWF Executive Director Jesse Zeman in a video addressing the changes.
Accordingly, many of the stakeholders in the region—including the BCWF and the Blueberry River First Nations—are advocating for the government to instead shift its focus to habitat restoration and wildlife management in the Peace region.
“As long as wildlife management and habitat restoration are managed sustainably, there can be a healthy hunting industry in the future for everyone in northeast B.C.,” Chief Desjarlais said.