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The Kettle Valley Railroad Trail transfer to the Penticton Indian Band is a legal issue not a political one.
That was the message given to about 100 people who showed up for the town hall meeting at West Bench Elementary School on Tuesday.
“At the end of the day, they’ve got a contract that says the land reverts to the PIB and that contract has been interpreted by the courts twice,” said regional district Area F director Michael Brydon. “This is a contract from 100 years ago ... we do have to understand that it is not open to public debate or consultation, it is the law and it’s contract law. I definitely know it is hard to swallow, but it’s not going to change. We have to understand that and deal with that. When people say they weren’t consulted on the transfer of the land — well, no you weren’t, and really you are not going to be.”
The land in question was expropriated from the PIB for the KVR/CPR railroad, and in 1985 the B.C. Supreme Court ordered the land returned to the PIB as the railway was no longer used. In the past couple of months Indian and Northern Affairs Canada told local governments they are ready to start the process of transferring the land back.
Brydon said the steps INAC has to go through, before the land transfer, include the federal government ensuring everything goes according to law and has a policy that encourages First Nations and municipalities to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern.
“This is going to be a longer process and we want people to understand we are in very early days here. The process already addresses a lot of the concerns people have. The federal government is saying nothing will go forward until things are negotiated,” said Brydon. “The regional district is committed to negotiating with the band in a respectful and reasonable way and (PIB) seem to be doing the same.”
Brydon said some of the feedback he received from residents was positive, while other residents are concerned and frustrated about their lack of representation in the matter. Randy Enns, a resident in the area, said a mail-out should have been sent to the residents to find out what they think of the land transfer and how it will affect their lives.
“I don’t want it returned to the RDOS either, they haven’t done a thing for us. The only person that I would want this mailed to is Stockwell Day. I don’t trust the RDOS,” said Enns. “They are telling us that negotiations will occur after they get the land back. This is absolutely ridiculous, nobody can negotiate with the Penticton Indian Band after they have control of it as reserve land. The prime minister of Canada couldn’t make a statement that would carry any weight, everything has to be done before any land is turned over, and we are still of the opinion it shouldn’t be turned over.”
Residents were hoping to hear from PIB representative Joan Phillips, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, but only to gather information to take back to the chief and council. It was understood that the PIB will be holding a public meeting in mid-May to address these concerns with a legal counsel present.
“I think a lot of people were disappointed,” said one resident who didn’t want to give his name. “We thought people would be able to have some input and it turned out to be a lecture of what is going to be done. Forget the actual trail right now, what you have to realize is that there are water mains, gas mains and all these lines and roads that cross the railway.
“The regional district doesn’t own any of these roads so they won’t get involved, but yet we pay our taxes to them. We are in a situation where we are being dictated to by the Penticton Indian Band with nobody representing us and there is no way we can go out and hire a lawyer to talk to their lawyers. It’s very frustrating.”
Okanagan Coquihalla MP Stockwell Day told the Penticton Western News that the federal government will get involved once a deal is finalized between the CPR and the band to act as a transfer agent. This step in the process addresses concerns voiced from residents about protecting existing utility corridors and right-of-ways.