Whether Lake Country votes yes or no this week is a moot point to members of the Okanagan Indian Band. Dreams of a rail trail from Kelowna to Coldstream are far in the offing, considering a significant chunk of the land isn’t legitimately up for grabs, said Band Chief Byron Louis.
Last month the band filed a legal injunction to slow the sale of the corridor until the matter of land title is cleared away. The injunction is expected to be dealt with in court before the sale goes through.
“It’s to, more or less say, ‘wait a minute, let’s put the brakes on this’…There are more issues to be resolved,” Louis said Friday. “Move ahead on the sale of the other portion, but for the 20 kilometres of the historic commonage, we’d like to put that on pause.”
The heart of the issue lies in B.C.’s history with First Nations commonage reserves.
In flyers it has circulated, the band says the Commonage Rail Corridor is a portion of the land allotted to them by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission in 1877.
Between 1886 and 1893 Canada and B.C. purportedly relinquished the band’s interest to the lands, but didn’t abide by the rules of the Indian Act when doing so. Therefore, the band claims the rights acquired by CN were limited to the use of the corridor for railway purposes only.
“When KPR went bankrupt and CN decided to abandon the entire rail corridor, the Commonage Rail Corridor, like the Duck Lake portion, should have reverted to reserve land,” they say.
If the courts support that claim, it means CN wouldn’t have the right to sell the stretch of land.
Also, Louis said the land is of special significance to the band.
“We had people who were still using it in the 1950s to 1960s, driving cattle to the south end of Vernon,” he said. “It’s not like we suddenly stopped using that area, or didn’t have an interest. We had aunts, uncles and family who put medicines through there, and there are fishing stations where the rail trail would be. There are a lot of connections to it.”
Louis wants to make it clear that the band isn’t at odds with the community—just this plan. “We are doing a lot of great things together, just not this,” he said.
A court date has yet to be set.