Proponents of purchasing a railway corridor are staying the course despite high-profile opposition.
The Okanagan Indian Band has come out against the agreement local jurisdictions have signed to purchase the Canadian National line from Coldstream to Kelowna for $22 million. The band insists the corridor is part of an outstanding land claim.
“We have no control over that and we’re working through the rules as we know it. To just stop (the purchase process), we would lose that opportunity,” said Jim Garlick, Coldstream mayor.
“We’re not trying to infringe on anything with the band because we have no powers (with First Nations land claims).”
Juliette Cunningham, Greater Vernon Advisory Committee chairperson, is reluctant to comment on how the band’s opposition may impact the rail purchase.
“We will have to talk to City of Kelowna staff who have been the lead in negotiations,” she said.
Kelowna officials say they were aware of the band’s land claims with the federal government along Wood and Kalamalka lakes.
“Our understanding is that CN has the right to legally dispose of the railway corridor and that this is a land claim issue between the OKIB and senior levels of government,” said Doug Gilchrist, Kelowna’s division director of community planning and real estate.
“The city does not take stands on land claim issues between First Nations and senior levels of government as it’s outside of our jurisdiction. The City of Kelowna will continue to work with the OKIB through the joint planning initiative currently underway for the mutual benefits of all our citizens.”
The corridor is part of the Commonage claim, which the band says was created when reserve land was taken away from the band in the late 1800s.
“In our eyes, the resolution of the OKIB’s entitlement to the Commonage Reserve remains outstanding business,” said Byron Louis, Okanagan Indian Band chief.
“We offered the mayors the opportunity to back our claim. First, it would have helped to build much needed bridges between parties and cultures and second, it would have saved the taxpayers $22 million.”
The band has forwarded the issue to legal counsel for further review, but that hasn’t halted optimism among the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative that a recreational corridor can be developed.
“This doesn’t surprise me because there’s still an unresolved issue,” said Brad Clements, initiative president, of the band’s concerns about the land purchase.
“All of us in the Okanagan need to understand the history and where the band is coming from. It’s part of the process. There will still be a solution.”