Opinion

Albas: First Nations bands have different circumstances

Even as far away as Ottawa the success of the Westbank and Osoyoos First Nations in terms of investment and development are well known.

From time to time I am also asked about why Penticton Indian Band has not to date been as successful in attracting similar levels of investment and development. There are of course many reasons for this, however there are also some factors that are unique to Penticton that are often not taken into consideration in this discussion.

One of the challenges for many First Nations bands is that not all land is band land– many lands are “locatee lands”– these lands are very similar to privately held land where locatees can make land use decisions independently of locally elected band Chiefs and their respective councils.

Although a First Nations band cannot directly control locatee lands, a band Chief and council do have similar authority to enact expropriation and can collect revenues from improvements on locatee lands through taxation.

Ultimately when reserves were first created borders were established between band lands and locate lands. Unfortunately for some bands, specifically the Penticton Indian Band, many of the bands most economically valuable lands are geographically isolated by a combination of different factors. In some cases band lands are isolated by locatee lands, as is often the case for Penticton, however it should also be noted that both the airport and the channelization of the Okanagan River system (that was done to prevent flooding and prevent costly property damage) also strategically cut off economically viable lands from critically needed access and services.

Without access and services it is difficult to attract investment and development that in turn generates revenue and creates employment. It is for these reasons that the Penticton Indian Band has been working with all levels of government to build a new bridge between the two communities that will allow the band to attract development and investment similar to other successful First Nations in the Okanagan.

It is also important to recognize these projects do not occur overnight. The massive regulatory burden dealing with multiple levels of government takes significant time and resources to overcome. Currently work on the proposed Green Ave. bridge has been underway in excess of ten years and there are still hurdles that must be overcome. The subject of funding for the bridge construction has also been raised. Recently the federal government contributed $500,000 towards this economic project through Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. The majority of the remaining funding will come from a variety of different sources however I can confirm that the federal government will not be the primary source of funds for this project.

Projects like a new Green Avenue bridge crossing and the Skaha Hills vineyard, golf course and residential development will be key in creating new revenues and economic development for both the Penticton Indian Band and the region. The Skaha Hills development in particular will also help to increase Penticton airport visits; representing another important consideration as the South Okanagan remains committed to attracting a second airline and connecting access through Calgary and points further East.

The House of Common is back in session this week and if there is a comment, question or concern you have on any matter before the House please do not hesitate to send me an email at dan.albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.

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