A First Nations’ land claim could create uncertainty for a proposed Okanagan rail trail.
The Okanagan Indian Band is asking the federal government to purchase the Kalamalka Lake portion of the abandoned rail line for inclusion to its reserve.
“That rail bed is part of the Commonage claim,” said Chief Byron Louis.
“The whole area is up for negotiation.”
Canadian National is currently going through an abandonment process for the rail line and the Okanagan Rail Trail Society is urging all levels of government to purchase the land for a recreational corridor.
If the Kalamalka Lake portion was added to the Okanagan Indian Reserve, Louis isn’t sure if a trail would fit into the band’s long-term goals.
“We would look at what we could do with it. The band would sit down and make a decision,” he said.
The Okanagan Rail Trail Society became aware of the band’s request to Ottawa Monday.
“It wasn’t expected but it’s not surprising they would claim it,” said Duane Thomson, a society director and retired history professor.
“If something couldn’t be negotiated with the band, this would present a difficulty. But it’s not to say it (reserve land) would be insurmountable. It wouldn’t shut us off entirely because there’s the old highway along the Kalamalka Lake section.”
Under CN’s abandonment process, the federal government has until today to decide if it will purchase the rail line. If it does not, the provincial government has 30 days to make an acquisition, followed by local government having a 30-day period to buy the land.
“We will see where it goes,” said Thomson of the band’s actions.
The Commonage reserve was established for the Okanagan Indian Band in 1877, but soon after, the land was removed and sold to non-native settlers.
“The government illegally took the reserve away,” said Louis.
“Our entitlement to the Commonage land remains and the federal government cannot simply ignore our unresolved claim to our ancestral lands.”
Louis says while a process for negotiations was created, the federal government walked away from the table.
“It’s been like trying to pull teeth to get this resolved. It falls in the court of the federal government,” he said.
When asked if the band prefers to own the land or to accept funds in lieu of the property, Louis said, “Money is nice but it’s easily spent. Land is always there.”