The head of the yes campaign heading into Lake Country’s referendum on purchasing the CN Rail corridor says he sympathizes with the Okanagan Indian Band and says the band’s claim to a large portion of the corridor could muddy the waters ahead of the referendum.
Duane Thomson, a retired history professor and long-time Lake Country resident, says the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) have been great neighbors to Lake Country and adds the problems are between the OKIB and the federal government and should have no bearing on Lake Country’s attempt to purchase the corridor, along with Kelowna and the North Okanagan Regional District.
“The Indian community in B.C. is extremely frustrated with the federal government and they seem to have no way of communicating with them or getting them to listen,” said Thomson, who is running a campaign promoting the yes side of Lake Country’s April 25 referendum. “I don’t think it will have much of an impact on the referendum issue. It does muddy the water for sure. I have a lot of sympathy with our Indian neighbours who are good neighbours in so many respects. But they have a really serious issue with the federal government.”
On Tuesday of this week the Okanagan Indian Band filed a civil suit in B.C. Supreme Court asking for an injunction to stop CN from being able to sell the land. The lawsuit claims CN is trespassing on the OKIB’s Commonage Reserve and adds the rail corridor along Kalamalka Lake should have reverted back to native control once it was no longer being used as a railway.
“It’s unfortunate it has come to this but we make no apologies when it comes to protecting the legal interests of our membership,” said OKIB chief Byron Louis. “The rail line runs through the Commonage Reserve and the OKIB has never lawfully surrendered the land.”
The Commonage claim by OKIB is different than another portion of the rail corridor that passes through an OKIB reserve near Duck Lake. That stretch of line is not included in the negotiated deal between CN and the municipalities while the band claims the entire line along Kalamalka Lake runs through its territory.
As far as the inter-jurisdictional team goes, the group issued a press release Wednesday stating they had invited OKIB to the table at the beginning of the process and the band declined adding staff and elected officials have met with OKIB council members on numerous occasions to “discuss this and and other projects that could be mutually beneficial to all citizens.”
“The partners remain unanimous in our commitment to complete this once-in-a-lifetime acquisition,” said Doug Gilchrist, of the City of Kelowna on behalf of the regional partners. “We are proceeding on what has always been our understanding – that CN owns the land outright and therefore has the legal right to sell the land.”
The parties have a tentative $22 million deal with CN to purchase the rail corridor and are in the process of removing subjects to the deal. Together the three jurisdictions are expected to raise $15 million of that total while the group has said the extra $7 million is expected to come from either the provincial or federal governments.
In the meantime, the OKIB says it has sent letters to Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development Canada and Transport Canada and has not received any response.