Penticton Indian Band still fighting to get expropriated airport lands back | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Penticton Indian Band still fighting to get expropriated airport lands back

Penticton Airport in the early 1940s.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Old Kelowna

The Penticton Indian Band has been fighting for more than 75 years against what a former chief called the “legalized theft” of hundreds of acres of land that is now the Penticton airport.

“The airport has always been an ongoing issues since the time it was taken under the War Measures Act during World War II,” present chief Greg Gabriel told “The promise back then was that the land would be returned after the war was over but that never did happen so it’s an ongoing dispute and we continue to make the Government of Canada aware of this.”

In 1937, the federal Department of Transport started scouting out sites for an airport for Penticton, settling on land partly within Indian Reserve #1, according to an archived history of the airport.

The government ended up taking about 153 acres from the band in 1941 and another 120 acres in 1946 “under an ostensible expropriation with no compensation settled,” according to the  Kruger v The Queen court challenge.

READ MORE: Penticton Indian Band member aiming to be Penticton City Councillor

The challenge was heard in court over four years, from 1981 to 1985. The band was asking for a “declaration that they had been wrongfully dispossessed of the land and claiming that the Crown breached its fiduciary duty to them.”

They lost that case and lost appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.

A 2001 legal opinion suggested they could pursue their claim through the government’s “Specific Claims Branch.”

“The band’s grievance includes: the band lost their best land; the takings were against the band’s will; the band was denied effective bargaining leverage and Canada benefited from the transaction,” states a briefing note from the Vancouver based law firm Mandell Pinder LLP that was published in the band’s December 2020 newsletter.

The briefing note also outlines a number of other land claims the band has including the Summerland Experimental Farm.

“The first claim pertains to the expropriation of 564.55 acres of reserve land in 1914-15 to establish the Summerland Experimental Farm,” the briefing note said. “The second claim relates to the further expropriation of 78 acres of reserve land to expand the experimental farm in 1929.”

A protest was held at the airport on March 1, 1999, by about 200 supporters when it was announced that Transport Canada was turning the airport over to the City of Penticton as part of its move away from owning airports.

“The band members told Transport Canada and the city that the interests in the airport land belonged to them,” stated an article written by Tracey K Bonneau in the First Nations publication Raven's Eye. “Chief Stewart Phillip then stated the band would not ‘allow legalized theft’ and noted that the band would ‘never relinquish claim to the airport lands.’"

The protest forced the cancellation of a few flights that day but did not resolve the dispute.

These and other land issues are under ongoing discussions between the band and the federal government with talks that are happening “each and every month,” Gabriel said.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “They never did want to return any lands back to First Nations."

Gabriel would not speculate on what would happen if the band did get title to their land back.

“That’s a decision we would have to bring to the community,” he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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