BUYER BEWARE: BAND SAYS NO CLEAR TITLE ON RAIL CORRIDOR
VERNON - The Okanagan Indian Band is speaking out against a recent deal between Okanagan municipalities and CN Rail to buy the decomissioned rail line between Vernon and Kelowna.
Chief Byron Louis said Tuesday the band is advancing a land claim for the Commonage Reserve, through which a large portion of the corridor runs. Okanagan municipalities recently inked a deal with CN Rail to buy the corridor for $22 million.
Louis said while 2.5 km in the Duck Lake reserve was excluded from the deal to be returned to band land, there’s been little said about the much larger chunk that traverses the Commonage Reserve.
“The Commonage Reserve was allotted by the Joint Reserve Commission in 1877 and without consultation, the land was taken back. The OKIB has never lawfully surrendered our title to the land,” Louis said.
The Okanagan Indian Band advanced a specific claim for the Commonage Reserve, which stretches roughly from Oyama to the Vernon Army base, in 2002, Louis said, and while Canada originally accepted the claim for negotiations, they later withdrew.
“In our eyes, the resolution of the OKIB’s entitlement to the Commonage Reserve remains outstanding business,” Louis said.
“We offered the mayors the opportunity to back our claim,” he added. “First, it would have helped to build much needed bridges between parties and cultures and second, it would have saved the tax payers 22 million dollars.”
Before entering into any discussion about future uses for the rail corridor with municipalities, Louis said the dispute with the federal government must be sorted out.
“We’ve said enough times, the land they’re buying has no clear title. Our message is it’s buyer beware,” Louis said.
The Okanagan Indian Band has forwarded the matter to legal counsel for further review and action.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran responded to the comments Tuesday, saying he’s not surprised by the band’s position.
“We understand they have an interest in the Commonage,” Basran said.
However, he said the city’s position is CN Rail has the right to dispose of the lands. According to information straight from the federal government, Basran said the land claim has concluded.
“If the federal government were to reopen the claim and enter into negotiations with the Okanagan Indian Band, which as of now doesn’t look like that’s the case, we would respect any final decision they have.”
He said the coalition of municipalities, including the City of Kelowna, North Okanagan Regional District, and District of Lake Country, will be moving ahead and finalizing funding sources to complete the sale.
“I don’t believe we jumped any sort of gun or did things without due process. I think all the proper protocol was followed and now it’s just a matter of waiting to see what happens with the Okanagan Indian Band’s claim with the federal government.... We will continue to work with all the parties involved, including the OKIB, to make sure this is a win win for everyone.”
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—This story was updated at 4:50 p.m. Dec. 16 to include comments from Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, and additional comments from Chief Byron Louis.