Okanagan Indian Band embraces Lake Country mayor's support for land claim

Image Credit: Contributed/Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative

VERNON - Lake Country Mayor James Baker appears to have thrown his support behind the Okanagan Indian Band’s land claim to the Commonage Reserve including the portion which includes the CP Rail line intended for the Okanagan Rail Trail, and the band intends to hold him to his words.

Chief Byron Louis says he welcomes Baker’s support and invites him to act on his words, according to a media release.

Baker made the statement in a recent Vernon Morning Star article about the Okanagan Rail Corridor.

He said: “This is a good opportunity for them (band) to get it before the federal government, perhaps with the support of local government,” said James Baker, Lake Country mayor. “I’d like to see us support it (claim). The courts have said aboriginal title underlines all of B.C.”

Infonews.ca attempted to reach Baker directly for more on the topic, but was told the mayor is currently attending a local government conference in Kamloops and is unable to check email or take calls.

Baker’s response differs from that of other Okanagan politicians, including Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran who has said CN Rail has the right to sell the corridor to municipalities. The band’s notice of claim argues CN has no lawful authority to dispose of the land.

“We welcome the support of any right-minded individuals who have taken the time to learn about our claim,” Louis says in the release. “There’s a saying though, about the value of talk versus the value of action.”

The band expects its application for an injunction to stop the sale of the Commonage Rail Corridor to be heard by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in May, in Vancouver. Louis says local municipalities and CN Rail, have already filed responses to the claim.

“The responses so far have essentially denied that the Commonage reserve existed,” Louis says. “They also accuse the Okanagan Indian Band of ‘abuse of process.’”

Louis expects a strong turnout for the injunction hearing in Vancouver and says the band’s membership has made it clear the rail corridor is its current priority.

“While we maintain working relationships with the municipalities and regional district our partners in the region, aside from Mayor Baker, have consistently denied our underlying interest in the land,” Louis said. 

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

—This article was edited at 2:16 p.m. April 30 after the OKIB retracted a portion of its original statement. 

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