Band pursues expansion of reserve lands

Members of the Okanagan Indian Band are navigating bureaucracy to ensure a future land base.

The band is in year eight of a 10-year process to have 1,088 hectares it owns on the west side of Okanagan Lake officially designated as reserve.

“It’s a long and drawn  out process with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada,” said Chief Fabian Alexis.

The Beau Park Ranch was purchased in 2002 using funds from a land claims settlement with the federal government. The settlement was for 1,147 acres removed from the reserve in 1881.

The ranch would increase the reserve land base to about 28,000 acres.

“When the lands were purchased, there was the thought that there would be land for future generations around the issue of housing,” said Alexis.

“It will benefit our band in that way.”

Environmental assessments have been completed and consultation is underway with other jurisdictions.

On Monday, band councillors made a presentation to the Central Okanagan Regional District about the proposed expansion of reserve land.

Of the 1,088 hectares, four parcels totalling 190 hectares are adjacent to Westshore Estates and within CORD’s boundaries.

CORD opposed the application in 2009, but it has now decided to consider the matter further.

“We want to go forward and have staff look at it in conjunction with the band,” said Jim Edgson, North Westside Road director.

“We don’t have enough information and we want some points clarified.”

Among the concerns that have arisen from CORD are lost taxes and road access into the area.

Edgson believes the road issue can be addressed.

“What we have to make sure that we do is that any judgements we make are thoughtful and fair,” he said.

Alexis says the band is looking at how to maintain road access, and he insists taxation should not be a reason to oppose reserve status.

“They are looking at their tax dollars but there are very few tax dollars coming from those lands because it’s raw and there is nothing on it,” said Alexis.

“Currently, we do pay taxes on those properties.”

Most of the Beau Park Ranch is located in the North Okanagan Regional District.

In 2009, NORD received a referral from the federal government about the band’s proposal. A firm position was not taken on adding land to the reserve.

“One property has taxable improvements on it, the remaining properties have no taxable improvements according to the 2009 B.C. Assessment Authority tax rolls,” said then-planner Steve Noakes in a letter to INAC.

“The regional district has no infrastructure within this area and there are no community water or community water systems to service the properties. Roads are within the jurisdiction of the province.”