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Okanagan Indian Band still fighting for compensation over military explosives buried on reserve

Clearance work at the Madeline Lake range on Okanagan Indian Band lands in September 2014.
November 24, 2017 - 2:30 PM

VERNON - The Okanagan Indian Band is carrying on its legal fight in B.C. Supreme Court over military explosives left buried on its land by the Department of National Defence.

Band Chief Byron Louis says the lawsuit, which was filed last year, continues to move through the courts. The band is alleging neglect of duty on the part of the government for not cleaning up munitions and unexploded ordnances from military training while the reserve land was being used by National Defence under a lease agreement between at least 1939 and 1990.

“What we’re waiting for from Canada is, do we have to go that route (court) or can we finally come to a settlement,” Louis says.

He’s been closely watching the federal government’s multi-million settlement payouts to K&L Land Partnership, which bought land in Vernon — not far from the reserve — that was also used for military training. In all, that developer has received roughly $15.4 million in compensation for environmental damages.

Chief Louis says that payment sets a positive precedent for the band's case.

“I think it’s pretty hard for them (government) to treat one party one way and another a different way,” Louis says. “You’re still talking about the same issue, so... I think the courts would take a dim view of that.”

Image Credit: Photo by Don Louis, courtesy of OKIB

He says the band would prefer to settle outside of court, but if they do have to fight their case before a judge he feels they have a strong case.

“Without a doubt, we have every confidence we’re going to win because it’s based on a contract that stipulated they would clean up when they were finished,” he says.

National Defence has been chipping away at the clean-up for years, including a commitment of $125,000 each year for four years for removal and training. In a January 2016 interview, the department said it had also committed more than $1 million for clearance work in 2014/2015, and a further allocation of $1.6 million in 2016.

But, Louis says that work is moving too slowly.

“Clean-up should have started immediately,” Louis says. “It’s been a real hardship on us. It’s beautiful land and pretty valuable real estate. We’ve like to start figuring out how we’re going to use it.”

Because of safety concerns and liability, the band has not been able to develop the land, which Louis says is comparable to anything you’d see up at Predator Ridge, a nearby resort golf community.

Fully clearing the land would take an estimated $20 million and “at least 20 years to get it done” Louis says.

A statement from the Department of National Defence was not readily available.


Removing military explosives from Okanagan band land 'not as simple as putting money at it': DND

Why a private developer got $11M to remove bombs while the Okanagan Indian Band is still waiting

The defence department borrowed land from the Okanagan Indian Band and left this behind

Okanagan Indian Band sues government for neglecting to remove unexploded military bombs from reserve land

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