VERNON - The Okanagan Indian Band is filing a notice of claim in B.C. Supreme Court, asserting aboriginal title to a portion of the discontinued CN rail corridor between Lake Country and Vernon.
It’s part of the same rail corridor local municipalities are working towards purchasing for conversion into a trail, but Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis says they have no right to purchase lands that aren’t CN Rail’s to sell.
“It’s unfortunate it’s come to this,” Louis said in a press release. “But we make no apologies when it comes to protecting the legal interests of our membership.”
The Commonage Indian Reserve—which stretches roughly from Oyama to the Vernon Army base—was created in 1877 but subsequently removed by the government, the band says. Louis says the band was not consulted, and never lawfully surrendered its title to the land.
In the notice of claim, filed by the band’s legal counsel Matthew Kirchner of Ratcliff & Company LLP, the band argues the property legally reverted to reserve land when it ceased to be used for rail purposes and can therefore not be lawfully sold.
“As I’ve said consistently, buyers beware,” Louis said.
The purchase agreement between local municipalities and CN Rail stipulates that 2.5 km of the corridor be returned to the Duck Lake Reserve, but Louis said the Commonage Reserve title was ignored completely in the deal.
The claim states none of the defendants (among them CN Rail, the City of Kelowna, the District of Lake Country, and the Regional District of North Okanagan) have acknowledged the band’s interests in the Commonage Reserve lands, which traditionally included travel routes as well as fishing, hunting, and gathering grounds.
“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,” Louis said. “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.”
More information about the Commonage Reserve can be found on the Okanagan Indian Band’s website.
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—This story was updated at 9 a.m. Mar. 25 to add a video.