Bands differ over territory

Okanagan Indian Band has concerns about an agreement between the Splatsin and Silver Star resort

Wayne Christian

Wayne Christian

Differences of opinion are surfacing over who claims a local mountain.

The Okanagan Indian Band is expressing concerns about a recent memorandum of understanding between Silver Star Mountain Resort and the Splatsin, which is part of the Shuswap Nation.

“If the province and our neighbours want to draw lines on a map, so be it. But our lines haven’t changed and are based on historical fact,” Byron Louis, OKIB chief, told The Morning Star.

On behalf of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Louis recently wrote a letter to the Splatsin and the provincial government.

“Silver Star Mountain Resort is located within the exclusive and unextinguished territory of the Sy/7x Okanagan Nation,” wrote Louis.

“This area falls within the OKIB’s area of responsibility and has the responsibility to ensure that the Sy/7x Okanagan Nation’s title and rights and territorial integrity are fully protected.”

The Splatsin are defending their memorandum of understanding with Silver Star Mountain Resort.

“Splatsin is a border community within the Secwepemc Nation and there is mixed (Syilx (Okanagan) and Secwepemc (Shuswap) blood within the community,” said Wayne Christian, Splatsin chief, in a letter.

“Splatsin holds much oral history of the Silver Star Mountain area as it was, and still is, an important component of our season round. The BX Creek-Silver Star area is known to us as Tsuqqwtsin, which translates to Red Mouthed Fish.”

Christian goes on to say that his band recognizes Silver Star as being shared with the OKIB.

“This shared protocol was reaffirmed by both our elders at a joint meeting held Oct. 28, 2002 where a motion was passed stating that Silver Star Mountain is a shared area between the two communities,” he said.

Louis says the provincial government is responsible for the overlapping claims and ignoring the title and rights of the Okanagan.

“They want to create uncertainty and that the courts will say, ‘No one owns it,” he told The Morning Star.

“We can’t allow it. If someone draws lines on a map, there’s no justification for us to respect it.”

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says it’s aware of the overlapping territorial claims between the OKIB and the Splatsin.

“The B.C. government has been in touch with both nations highlighting B.C.’s requirement to consult with both nations and that neither consultation nor consultation agreements with one band or nation in no way limits the aboriginal rights of the other band or nation,” states the ministry in an e-mail.

“While it is best for neighbouring First Nations to work together to resolve differences, the province is always prepared to facilitate discussion where First Nations find it helpful.”

Frustration with the government has led to the OKIB cancelling Ministry of Forests and B.C. Hydro projects on its land.

“We’re prepared to do it again. We have no choice,” said Louis.

The Splatsin are calling for a meeting with the OKIB to resolve the conflict.

“We need to stop challenging each other’s claims and start working together in the role of caretakers to our shared areas for future generations,” said Christian in his letter.

Silver Star Mountain Resort deferred comment on the matter.