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Okanagan Indian Band sues government for neglecting to remove unexploded military bombs from reserve land

FILE PHOTO - Clearance work at the Madeline Lake range on Okanagan Indian Band lands in September 2014.
October 05, 2016 - 10:07 AM

VERNON - The Okanagan Indian Band is taking the federal government to court over dangerous military training munitions that remain buried on reserve land.

The Okanagan Indian Band Chief and Council filed a civil claim, yesterday Oct. 4, in the Supreme Court of B.C. against the Attorney General of Canada, which represents the Department of National Defence, for 26 years of neglect of duty to remove unexploded ordnances from the reserve, the band says in a media release. 
The Defence Department used the Okanagan Indian Band reserve lands for military training, including the firing of live munitions, at various times between at least 1939 and 1990. The Canadian government negotiated the leases, which included terms that the department clean up and remove military munitions scrap and unexploded ordnances once military use of the area ceased.
“In the 26 years since our reserve lands were last used for military training, DND and Canada have neglected their duty to remove UXOs. Our band members aren’t able to safely use, or develop these areas,” Chief Byron Louis says. “The affected lands are prime areas of value for commercial, residential and agricultural uses. 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.”
Between 1944 and 1973 nine people were killed and three injured from finding ordnances on the Goose Lake Range, Glenemma Range and other former ranges in the Vernon area. In August 2016 after a fire near Predator Ridge, near the reserve, an ordnance was discovered. 

Live munitions continue to be located and destroyed by controlled detonations on the reserve lands to the present day. The Department of National Defence is working with the band to remove the munitions, but the band says it is not happening fast enough. 
The contamination caused by decades of UXO and munitions scrap in the ground is another key concern for the band, which says removal of these materials must be accompanied by remediation of the land.

Over 2000 pounds of Unexploded Explosive Ordnance was removed from Okanagan Indian Band land in 2014.
Over 2000 pounds of Unexploded Explosive Ordnance was removed from Okanagan Indian Band land in 2014.
Image Credit: Photo by Don Louis, courtesy of OKIB

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