Okanagan Indian Band going to courts to try and block sale of CN Rail corridor

Chief Byron Louis says they make no apologies and have been ignored for too long

Okanagan Indian Band chief Byron Louis says the band is being forced to go to the courts to try and settle a long-standing land claim.

Okanagan Indian Band chief Byron Louis says the band is being forced to go to the courts to try and settle a long-standing land claim.

As a result of the impending sale by CN to local municipalities of the rail corridor between Kelowna and Coldstream, the Chief and Council of the Okanagan Indian Band has instructed their legal counsel to file a notice of claim in BC Supreme Court regarding the OKIB’s underlying interest in a portion of those lands.

“It’s unfortunate it’s come to this,” said Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band, “but we make no apologies when it comes to protecting the legal interests of our membership.”

The OKIB asserts that the portion of the rail line that runs through the Commonage Indian Reserve IR No. 9, reverted to reserve land when it ceased to be used for railway purposes and therefore cannot be lawfully sold.

The band says CN cannot sell what they do not own, and the municipalities cannot purchase lands that are not CN’s to sell.

“We have sent letters to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and to Transport Canada and they haven’t even had the common decency to respond,” said Chief Louis. “To think that 65 years ago, First Nations weren’t even allowed to seek justice via the courts when it came to land issues and now it’s the only way our voice can be heard. “

The Commonage Indian Reserve was created in 1877 by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission, a Commission established by Canada and BC specifically to allot Indian reserves. Over a decade later, Canada and BC purported to relinquish the Okanagan Indian Band’s interest in Commonage Reserve IR No.9 without abiding by the requirements of the Indian Act.

“Our position remains the same,” said Chief Byron Louis, “the rail line runs through the Commonage Reserve and the OKIB has never lawfully surrendered the land.”

Chief Louis said that he acknowledges that the District of Lake Country is preparing for a referendum regarding borrowing $2.6 million to buy 8km of track and added that voters and others who wish to learn more about the Commonage Reserve should visit the OKIB website.

“There seems to be some misinformation being spread about the OKIB concerns,” said Chief Louis. “We have always known that the 2.5km of track which passes through IR No. 7, Duck Lake, should and will be returned to us. From day one we have discussed the Commonage Reserve IR No. 9.”

“As I’ve said consistently, buyers beware.”

Chief Louis added that he understands that this may cause frustration from the non-First Nations population but reiterated that OKIB concerns relating to the Commonage Reserve have been long ignored.

“The Chiefs of the Okanagan, Shuswap and Thompson presented a letter to Sir Wilfred Laurier in 1910 demanding the land question be settled,” said Chief Louis, “We were ignored then and, in the spirit of reconciliation and cooperatively working with other levels of government, we steadfastly refuse to be ignored today.”