BEYOND THE HEADLINES:Band demands action

Bureaucracy has the Okanagan Indian Band heading to court.

Richard Rolke is a columnist and senior reporter with The Morning Star.

Richard Rolke is a columnist and senior reporter with The Morning Star.

Bureaucracy has the Okanagan Indian Band heading to court.

The band has launched a civil claim against the federal government for Ottawa’s poor track record removing explosives, or unexploded ordnances, from reserve lands.

“We have been patient and made every effort to work with Canada on the timely removal of UXOs, but after nearly three decades of limited clean-up efforts, we are tired of waiting,” said Chief Byron Louis.

About 7,000 acres of  land were used between the 1930s and 1990s for military training, and Ottawa promised to clean up the debris left behind.

This has meant band members are at risk when they go for a walk on these lands, while economic development projects that could create jobs for all local residents have stalled.

It’s increasingly obvious that Ottawa has never been serious about the cleanup when you consider the band has received $125,000 annually over four years to do the job. At that funding level, it could take 400 years to complete.

A Maclean’s article earlier this year indicated that the Department of National Defence’s budget for the current fiscal year to address UXOs across the country is $6.8 million.

So with nothing happening, the band has no choice but to go to court. As occurred last week with the RCMP’s apology to harassed female officers and employees, the only way to apparently get the government’s notice is to hire a lawyer and pursue big bucks.

And explosives aren’t the only concern for the local First Nation.

Frustration over boats being abandoned on Okanagan Lake, near the reserve, has the band seeking legal advice.

“But why are we having to go to this extreme to get resolution on this matter?” said Louis.

“Why are we always forced by this (provincial) government to react in the only way they understand and that’s through the courts. We should be spending our hard-earned resources on education and other areas that achieve real social and economic benefit and yet we’re forced to spend it in this manner.”

Now everyone in the region should show an interest in this issue as abandoned vessels have turned a public resource into a parking lot. They pose a risk to boaters, particularly at night, and there is the potential that any left-over fuel could pose an environmental hazard.

When contacted, the provincial and federal governments, which both have jurisdiction for Okanagan Lake, generally just pass the buck. One barge along Westside Road has sat there for years.

Louis is right. Why should the band have to spend precious time and money on legal action when common sense should dictate easy solutions to these matters.

All government needs to do is enforce the rules that already exist and remove the boats cluttering the lake, while Ottawa simply needs to honour an agreement to clean up explosives and back it up with financial resources.

Members of the band aren’t looking for special treatment or the moon. All they want is for senior government to do its job. Is that too much to ask for?