Historic agreement sees First Nations and City of Salmon Arm work on connector trail

The group of people who signed, or witnessed the signing, at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 of an historic memorandum of understanding between the City of Salmon Arm and the Adams Lake and Neskonlith bands to create the West Bay Connector Trail between Salmon Arm Bay and Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)
Adams Lake Councillor Gina Johnny signs a memorandum of understanding at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 regarding the building of the West Bay Connector Trail from Salmon Arm Bay to Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)
Adams Lake Councillor Gina Johnny and Neskonlith Councillor Louis Thomas share a smile during the gathering at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 to sign the memorandum of understanding regarding the building of the West Bay Connector Trail from Salmon Arm Bay to Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)
Adams Lake Kukpi7 (Chief) Cliff Arnouse signs a memorandum of understanding at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 regarding the building of the West Bay Connector Trail from Salmon Arm Bay to Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)
Neskonlith Councillor Louis Thomas signs a memorandum of understanding at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 regarding the building of the West Bay Connector Trail from Salmon Arm Bay to Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)
Secwepemc elder Lucy Williams sign a memorandum of understanding at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 regarding collaboration between the City of Salmon Arm and the Neskonlith and Adams Lake bands on building of the West Bay Trail from Salmon Arm Bay to Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison, Neskonlith Councillor Louis Thomas, North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold, Adams Lake Kukpi7 (Chief) Cliff Arnouse, Adams Lake Councillor Gina Johnny and Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo take time out for a photo at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 following the signing of a memorandum of agreement regarding collaboration on the West Bay Connector Trail from Salmon Arm Bay to Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)
It was goodwill all around as Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison, Adams Lake Kukpi7 (Chief) Cliff Arnouse and Neskonlith Councillor Louis Thomas sign a memorandum of understanding at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 regarding the building of the West Bay Connector Trail from Salmon Arm Bay to Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)
The group of people who signed, or witnessed the signing, at Pierre’s Point on Jan. 31 of an historic memorandum of understanding between the City of Salmon Arm and the Adams Lake and Neskonlith bands to create the West Bay Connector Trail between Salmon Arm Bay and Tappen. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

For Louis Thomas, the train whistle has been a painful reminder of the need to keep working towards the creation of a trail to safely connect the Secwepemc people with their Salmon Arm neighbours to the east.

Estimates of the number of First Nations killed near Salmon Arm by the train over the years reach as high as 40. Three of those losses are particularly excruciating for Thomas.

Tears well when he recounts that his father, his son and, more recently, his nephew, were all killed on the train tracks west of Salmon Arm.

“A lot of times I hear that reminder of the horn blowing – and I think that’s what keeps me going. The people who have passed away. They kind of remind me, ‘Keep trucking, Louis, remember us.’”

He says many deaths have been alcohol related, but sometimes it’s just difficult to hear the train if it’s coasting.

He recounts how one woman who was hearing-impaired was fishing off the bridge when she felt tremors. She scrambled off in the nick of time, but not without the train taking her backpack right off her back.

Along with safety, Thomas said he also sees the trail as an opportunity to educate people more about the environment, what the water and plants mean to his people.

“Salmon have literally disappeared from the river. This is part of the education part.”

Read more: Shuswap projects left with uncertain future after rural dividend funding suspended

Read more: Salmon Arm West Bay Trail project moving forward

Thanks to Thomas’ more than 40 years of advocating for a trail and the Shuswap Trail Alliance’s embracing of his dream 15 years ago, along with support from members of the West Bay Trail Working Group, on Friday, Jan. 31, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed at Pierre’s Point by representatives of the City of Salmon Arm and the Adams Lake and Neskonlith bands.

The signatories have agreed to work collaboratively to construct the West Bay Connector Trail, a walkway that will begin at Salmon Arm Bay and stretch to Tappen.

The working group is comprised of representatives of the Neskonlith band, Adams Lake band, the City of Salmon Arm, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, Interior Health, CP Rail, the Province of B.C., the Switzmalph Cultural Society and the Shuswap Trail Alliance as well as Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo and North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold.

Cstélnec Kukpi7 (Adams Lake Chief) Cliff Arnouse said the MOU means a lot.

“It will save lives, it will do good for the planet… It will also bring all these communities together. Connecting communities is what it’s all about.”

Mayor Alan Harrison said he and Arnouse spoke about how they could not make this happen individually but together they can. He acknowledged that city councillors Sylvia Lindgren, Tim Lavery and Debbie Cannon were in attendance and emphasized the city is fully behind the MOU.

Read more: City defers grant application on foreshore trail expansion

Read more: Safe route needed between First Nations, Salmon Arm communities

Read more: Minimal increase in budget

MLA Greg Kyllo and MP Mel Arnold came to offer their congratulations, thanks and support for the plan. Kyllo noted the contribution of Phil McIntyre-Paul, the executive director of the Shuswap Trail Alliance, who helped to hold everyone together.

Adams Lake councillor Gina Johnny was recognized with an enthusiastic round of applause for all the work she’s done leading up to the signing of the MOU.

She read the MOU, which included objectives. Mentioned were the advantages of the transportation link and having a future connection to the Shuswap trail system, as well as promoting the protection of sensitive environment and cultural sites along the west side of Salmon Arm Bay.

Johnny said she sees the MOU as the start of a team that will be working together and connecting, not just on the trail, but for years to come.

Next steps in building the trail will be sourcing funds to support planning, including archaeological, cultural and environmental assessments.

Following the MOU signing, Louis Thomas said he was in a bit of shock.

“It’s been ongoing for so long now, it seemed like it was never going to be done. Now I think with the support of all the people it will be a dream that might come true, finally.”



marthawickett@saobserver.net

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