As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, Ottawa is being reminded of unfinished business.
The Okanagan Indian Band is concerned the federal government has not resolved the colonial land claim even through a specific claims process began in 2004.
“Unsettled land claims hold us back from developing and investing in our local economy. We want to develop relationships with neighboring communities and governments, but that is difficult when we have to apply for injunctions to remind Canada that we have a land claim to the area,” said Chief Byron Louis.
“We don’t want to hinder development, but it shouldn’t take over 150 years for a government to do the right thing and compensate us for unlawfully taking our lands.”
The band says the colonial reserve was laid out in 1861 by the government after negotiations with band members, and it was located at the northern end of Okanagan Lake and included a substantial part of what is now the City of Vernon.
Four years later, a new government appointee developed a policy that sought to diminish the size of reserves.
“In 1865, without negotiation or consent by Okanagan Indian Band members, the colonial reserve was carved back to a fraction of its original size and excluded the most useful segments of land,” said Louis.
“The lands were then thrown open to preemption – a situation which allowed settlers to purchase stolen reserve lands at a minimum price without compensation to our people.”
The colonial land claim was reviewed and accepted for negotiation by Canada in 2012 and over the last five years, the parties have been involved in negotiations.
“Moving forward into an era of reconciliation between Canada and indigenous people, there is opportunity to resolve this outstanding land claim with the same characteristics of fairness and generosity exemplified by the OKIB throughout Canada’s history,” said Louis.
“The resolution of the colonial land claim will provide financial compensation to Okanagan Indian Band, allowing it to reinvest and undertake economic development activities that will positively impact Vernon and the region as a whole.”