BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Get off the sidelines

Local jurisdictions must rally support for the Okanagan Indian Band

It was a month ago that I suggested local officials come together behind the Okanagan Indian Band and push for a resolution to the more than century-old Commonage claim.

The argument at the time was a collaborative approach would provide certainty for communities wanting to purchase the CN rail corridor and develop a recreational trail.

And while there was an initial sense that municipalities may back the OKIB’s land claims bid in Ottawa, that’s clearly not the case.

As soon as the B.C. Supreme Court denied the band’s application for an injunction to stop the sale of the rail corridor Monday, representatives from the victorious municipalities and regional districts were distancing themselves from the broader issue of First Nations rights.

“It’s a federal and provincial issue and they need to deal with the band,” said James Baker, Lake Country mayor.

“We understand that they are trying to finalize claims but it’s out of our jurisdiction,” added Juliette Cunningham, Greater Vernon Advisory Committee chairperson.

Technically, the municipalities and regional districts are correct when they say that aboriginal affairs is the responsibility of Ottawa. However, we should all remember that councils and boards have interferred in senior affairs before.

As an example, municipalities pulled behind Cherryville in its fight over logging in a sensitive area and concerns about dangerous highways and meat regulations have been multi-jurisdictional.

And while all of those are important issues, nothing is more fundamental than basic human rights and righting past wrongs. The Commonage reserve was formed in 1877 and within a decade, bureaucrats erased the boundary and didn’t provide compensation to the OKIB.

Members of the band are not some separate group. We play hockey with them or work beside them. Our kids are in school together or  marriages have made us family. They are part of our overall community and we should be concerned about issues that impact them to the very root of who they are.

There are also possible implications for the communities purchasing the rail corridor if the band decides to go to the next level of court.

It’s a scenario even hinted at by the consortium putting the purchase deal together.

“Our understanding is that the specific claim over the Commonage reserve was concluded. However, land claims are ongoing across Canada and the city will respect any final decisions by Canada or the courts,” said Doug Gilchrist, with the City of Kelowna’s real estate department.

“We hope to continue to work with Okanagan Indian Band for the mutual benefit of all our citizens.”

And if the jurisdictions are truly genuine in wanting to work with the band and developing the full benefits a rail trail can provide socially and economically, then municipal councils and regional district boards should be contacting their MPs and MLAs and demanding immediate action over the Commonage claim.

The final process to purchase the rail corridor came at the same time that the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report on the impact of residential schools.

“We need reconciliation so that a broken country can become whole again,” said commissioner Marie Wilson in a CBC report.

One way for that to happen is for rank-and-file citizens, elected officials and civil servants — native and non-native — to move ahead together. That means bringing past wrongs to a close.

Let’s hope the jurisdictions involved in purchasing the rail corridor look beyond boundaries or legal limitations and do what is right.

 

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