June 01, 2015 - 7:28 PM
VERNON - After fighting for title rights to the Commonage Reserve in Vernon for over 100 years, the Okanagan Indian Band says an unfavourable court ruling does not mark the end of the battle.
“We’re not going away,” Chief Byron Louis says. “We haven’t given up on it for the last 133 years, I’d be ashamed if I was the one to do so.”
On Monday, June 1, a Supreme Court Judge denied the band’s request for an injunction to stop the sale of a discontinued rail corridor where it traverses the historical Commonage Reserve. Local government now intends to close its deal with CN Rail for almost 50 km of land from Vernon to Kelowna by the end of the day.
“It’s not something we’re absolutely shocked by,” Louis says of the court decision. “It’s not the first time we’ve been down this road, and B.C. level injunctions are few and far between.”
The band argued it never lawfully surrendered its title rights to the reserve, which was created in 1877 by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission and subsequently removed by the government about a decade later.
The judge rejected the request on the grounds there was no irreparable harm to the band if the sale deal went through, and the ‘balance of convenience’ to the parties did not weigh in favour of an injunction.
“We’ve been inconvenienced the last 133 years,” Louis says. “This is just another example of it.”
The judge did note local municipalities are purchasing the lands with knowledge of the band’s claim, Louis says.
“They cannot in the future say, ‘Oh well, we weren’t aware of it,” he says.
In a media release issued shortly after the judgement, the City of Kelowna acknowledged land claims are ongoing across Canada, and that any future decision made by the courts or the federal government will be respected.
Louis will be consulting with band membership to determine next steps and says there are a number of unaddressed questions with the case, such as the lack of notice and consultation provided by local municipalities, including the City of Kelowna, District of Lake Country and North Okanagan Regional District.
“We were never given the chance to look at the adverse impacts to our rights,” Louis says. “It was just through the newspapers we were notified of this (land sale) happening. There was absolutely no consultation whatsoever.”
Previously, there was a feeling the band had a good working relationship with municipal governments, and that “a corner had been turned on a lot of different issues,” Louis says.
“If you ask me, I was under the impression we had a good relationship with them,” he says. “Here, the municipalities and regional district went forward regardless of what we felt. That’s something that needs to be taken into consideration.”
Further background on the Commonage Reserve can be found here.
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