Members of the Okanagan Indian Band have voted in favour of purchasing the O’Keefe Range Lands, which would expand the band’s property by more than 2,000 acres.
In a plebiscite vote confirmed Feb. 10, 245 members voted in favour of the purchase out of a total of 303. Fifty-five voted against the purchase and there were three spoiled or rejected ballots.
The OKIB needed a simple majority to go ahead with the $26.8 million purchase, and with 81 per cent of voters supporting the move, the band can now look to take its next steps.
The OKIB reached an agreement with the City of Vernon to purchase the lands in November.
Located in the Bella Vista area within City of Vernon boundaries, the land is comprised of 20 parcels and includes more than 300 acres that’s designated in a neighbourhood plan as medium-term residential development. Another 19 acres of the property is located in the agricultural land reserve.
Two options have been explored for paying for the lands. The first is to have the federal government purchase the land for the OKIB on the basis of an Indigenous land claim. The second is to borrow money from a commercial bank and then develop part of the land to pay for the purchase cost. The band favours the first option.
“I believe it is our duty to return this land to the original owners,” OKIB Chief Byron Louis previously said on the matter. “The land is adjacent to our border and it will be sold to someone. Opportunities to expand the reserve do not come around often and we are in a good position to act.”
The band now has until the end of July to come up with the $26.8 million for the purchase.