"THEY ARE ACTUALLY STARTING TO FEEL THE CHANGE AND I THINK THAT'S A GOOD THING."
PENTICTON - With a $250-million land deal for a resort community and $18 million for community projects, Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger intends to follow in the footsteps of Westbank First Nation and Osoyoos Indian Band.
Those bands have set a torrid pace for development and have reached into markets few even thought possible with Osoyoos adding a $200-million prison and Westbank blazing a trail to a for-profit luxury hospital. It's no coincidence those bands have strong, charismatic leaders with Chief Robert Louie in Westbank and Clarence Louie in Osoyoos.
Kruger appears to be just as ambitious.
"We need to start being the capital of the south Okanagan," he said of the band and the City of Penticton.
This drive has led the Penticton Indian Band to developing the largest gravel pit in the south Okanagan, created the largest trucking company in Penticton, erected a three-storey log house day care, a state-of-the-art elementary and culture school and a signed a deal to turn reserve land into a $250-million high-end resort community with room for a future nine-hole golf course, a winery and a vineyard. The band is also the water license holder for Eneas Lake which will have a new $3 million dam. They've been given the business to ensure there will be clean water for future generations.
"I wanted to create instant realities in our community," Kruger said of what's been done. He did not want the needs of members to sit in a shelved report. The band took a collection of what people wanted including children, who were invited to have their say with drawings.
Upcoming projects include a $3.8 million health centre near the community's elementary school and a $5.6 million salmon hatchery. The latter is a huge project for the band and an important cultural move.
"(The hatchery) is not only going to be good for us it's going to be good for everyone," Kruger said. "We are bringing it back the way it was."
The chief estimates his band also saved $6 million walking in the footsteps of Osoyoos and Westbank. The band took their advice on dealing with government bureaucrats, land ownership and business systems.
One of the bigger projects will be a bridge connecting locatee land alongside the Okanagan River channel with Highway 97 and Green Avenue West. The chief said it will pave the way for big box stores and other operations on the reserve's side of the water and will benefit private land owners, the band and the city.
Kruger said the bridge means tax revenue, jobs, business and traffic and will steer some of the 2,500 drivers heading north of Penticton to buy goods.
"If we can capture those people we'll have better shopping experiences and have more jobs. It will create a huge tax base for the Penticton Indian Band as well as for the provincial and federal government."
"We continue the momentum of making things happen," he said. "I think our community seeing the trucks, seeing the progress, they are actually starting to feel the change and I think that's a good thing."
Chief Jonathan Kruger is pushing for Penticton Indian Band to be a successful community and said current and future projects will help it and the City of Penticton become the capital of the south Okanagan.
(SHANNON QUESNEL / iNFOnews.ca)