PENTICTON - The return of a native fishery on the Okanagan River has raised concerns of a riverbank property owner.
Melody Walker of Okanagan Falls says the property adjacent the east bank of the Okanagan River and immediately south of the Okanagan Falls dam has been in her family’s possession since the 1940s.
She claims native fishermen are trespassing on private property to get to the dam where they are currently fishing sockeye salmon.
“My mother grew up on that property, she knows first hand where the river boundary is. What’s unusual about this property is we own to the high water mark of the river,” she says.
Walker says provincial ministries have been asking the family for right of way along the east side of the river for years. She says on the north side of the dam, a narrow strip of Crown Land, that originated as fill, exists, but south of the dam her family’s property runs right to the river.
“Dealings with the provincial ministries went sour, and we refused to grant a statutory right of way,” she says, adding officials were never refused access when they needed it.
Walker says two years ago, a government survey was done that adjusted Walkers’ property boundary halfway up the east bank, opening the door for First Nations’ assertions of right of access to the dam.
Walker says she has hired her own surveyor and is gathering historic photos of the river to present her case. She says prior to the dam being built, the historic native fishery was located further downstream, adding the Osoyoos Indian Band legally relinquished title to the land in question in the 1940s.
Problems with the fishery began in 2009, when salmon began returning to the Okanagan River as far as Okanagan Falls dam. She says her family tried to cooperate with the fishermen, but after encountering such issues as liability, death threats, litter, cutting paths through her property and trespass, they began restricting access.
“The public should be concerned about the fishery, who is in charge of it, how it’s being done. Personally, I think the methods used are inhumane, and I don’t believe all the fish being taken are used for sustenance,” she says.
Osoyoos Indian Band member Roger Hall, who was fishing at the dam Friday morning, July 15, said he wasn’t delegated to speak on behalf of his people, but was willing to present his view.
Hall said in the past he sat on the Okanagan Nation's fisheries commission.
“I believe we have the right to fish and I don’t believe we should be blocked access. As far as the issue of crossing private property, that’s a loaded question. The big issue is, who owns the land, and who has the right to say we don’t have the right to our fish?”
Hall says the underlying issue is the resource and the harvesting of that resource.
“We worked hard to bring these fish stocks back, and now there is some fish, there’s a bunch of kerfuffle,” he says.
Hall said he would be interested in sitting down and creating a good neighbour policy.
“Okanagan Falls was a major fishery for my ancestors. There were native camps all through here. I could be wrong, but I think we’d much rather sit down and work things out,” he said.
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