The Penticton Indian Band is in a struggle with the city over control of portions of the Kettle Valley Railway trail that pass through the band’s land. Penticton Council voted 4-2 Monday to write a letter to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada stating that it is the city’s position that the roughly 139 acres of land, six parcels in all, should be maintained in its current ownership by the citizens of Canada. The letter is a response to an INAC request for any comments or concerns regarding a PIB application to have the land added to Penticton Indian Reserve.
“(The federal government should not be) handing it over to a particular interest group whether it be the Penticton Indian Band, the City of Penticton, the regional district or anybody else,” said Coun. Mike Pearce who proposed the letter. “The people of Canada, it is their property. They paid for it and they took this land and they should be holding onto it.”
However, Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger said that because the land was expropriated from the reserve in the early 1900s under the Indian Act for use as a railway, which has since been decommissioned, the land should be returned to the reserve.
“When they expropriated the land it was for a specific purpose and if it ceases to be used for what it was expropriated for, it gets returned back to reserve land and that is why we want it back,” said Kruger.
But Pearce questioned whether that would be the case, citing two 1952 Supreme Court of Canada decisions that blocked the band’s attempts to reacquire expropriated land the Penticton Regional Airport is on — a notion that Kruger rejects.
“The bottom line is this land is basically a very highly (used area), parts of which are already established utility lines and roads that people use for their livelihoods and everything else go across,” said Pearce. “If we were not to attempt to preserve the status quo now, we are just going to invite a bunch more problems for ourselves.”
Coun. Andrew Jakubeit said that he thought the city’s letter should detail council’s desire that the KVR land remains accessible for recreational purposes such as walking and cycling.
Councillors Garry Litke and Dan Albas said they supported the sentiment of wanting to keep the KVR land accessible for recreational use and maintenance of city-owned utility lines, but both balked at the notion that the city should be writing a letter to INAC expressing an opinion on who should own the land .
“I do not want to get into an argument with somebody about ownership,” said Litke, who also took issue with the use of the term interest group.
“I cannot support any motion on behalf of the city that is going to damage our relationship or that is going to jeopardize the protocol or the progress that we have been making with the Penticton Indian Band over the last few years.
“I think that this (letter) exceeds our jurisdiction ... and I think this goes way over the top.”
Albas said that instead of writing a letter to INAC, he thought council should be discussing the matter directly with band officials.
“I think we should try to respect and value the good relationship we have with the Penticton Indian Band,” he said.
Kruger said that in the future, once the land had been returned to the reserve, the band would be open to discussions regarding access to the land for recreational purposes and utility line maintenance. And that if liability issues towards the band were addressed, he said he would have no problem with people utilizing the trail on the land.
“I don’t want to get into any conflicts with the city or the regional district,” said Kruger. “This is part of the consultation process and they can write their concerns, but we are pretty confident that it will come back to the Penticton Indian Reserve lands because it is not being used for what it was expropriated for, therefore it returns back to reserve lands.”