Okanagan Indian Band members remain firm despite strong public support for a rail trail.
Chief Byron Louis says the band won’t back off a notice of claim in the B.C. Supreme Court despite a majority of Lake Country residents agreeing to purchase the Canadian National rail line as part of a plan for a public corridor from Coldstream to Kelowna.
“The only alternative we have is moving ahead with the court case,” said Louis.
“There’s been a lack of support by the federal government to settle this.”
The Commonage Indian reserve, which includes part of the rail corridor, was created in 1877, but the band says federal and provincial officials eliminated the reserve a decade later.
The band asserts that when a portion of the corridor ceased to be used for railway purposes, it should have reverted to band control instead of CN selling the property to the Regional District of North Okanagan, Lake Country and Kelowna.
While local jurisdictions are named in the court action, Louis believes municipalities and regional districts could rally around the band.
“Local communities could be very instrumental in resolving these issues,” he said.
“They could tell the federal government to, ‘Get on with it.’”
Louis would also like to see local residents become more interested in the issue because he says it boils down to one of basic property rights.
“People have to wake up to the fact that if this can be done to us, what’s stopping it from happening to them?” he said.
Despite the Lake Country referendum results and broad support in other communities for a rail trail, Louis says he feels no pressure to back away from the band’s interests.
“For us, injustice is injustice. We believe we are in the right,” he said.