EDITORIAL: OKIB claim can’t be ignored

Development of the trail doesn't stop the need to address title and rights for the Okanagan Nation

There was some extremely positive news Wednesday as the Okanagan Indian Band announced it’s formally joining the process to develop a recreational corridor from Coldstream to Kelowna.

This means there can be consistent planning among all of the jurisdictions, and proposals such as amenities celebrating the Okanagan culture, could enhance the trail experience. It also means the band, which has 2.5 kilometres of the route, could create economic opportunities such as hotels or restaurants.

However, while the co-operation among the local jurisdictions is welcome, no one should lose sight of a broader, more important issue.

Participation in planning the trail does not mean the Okanagan Indian Band has abandoned its claim to the rail corridor or the Commonage.

As a bit of background, a Commonage reserve was created by authorities in 1877 but provincial and federal officials eliminated the reserve a decade later. The band was never compensated for the loss.

As we saw initially with the local communities purchasing the rail corridor from Canadian National, unresolved land claims create uncertainty for everyone. Potential economic opportunities for natives and non-natives alike are on hold across the province because of governments’ unwillingness to resolve title and rights.

With the Okanagan Indian band at the table to develop the rail trail, this would be a perfect time for its partners — the Regional District of North Okanagan, Lake Country and Kelowna — to speak up and lobby Victoria and Ottawa to help resolve the outstanding Commonage claim.

It’s an issue of justice and future opportunities. But more importantly, it’s a case of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbours.