An agreement in principle to transfer portions of the Kettle Valley Railway trail from CPR ownership to the Penticton Indian Band is likely a done deal, according to the Okanagan Coquihalla MP. “Basically, they are close to coming to a settlement whereby CPR is prepared to transfer the land to the Penticton Indian Band,” said MP Stockwell Day.
“There are court details that they are still working out. But every indication I have, talking to both sides, is that a final official agreement is very close.”
The six parcels of land, roughly 139 acres, were expropriated under the Indian Act from the Penticton Indian Reserve in the early 1900s for the KVR line, which was eventually sold to CPR.
CPR decommissioned the railway line in the 1980s, and the two sides have been in court ever since, with the band arguing that because the land is no longer being used for the reason it was expropriated, it should be returned to the reserve.
However, Day said that lately the discussions have gone amicably and with an agreement likely already reached, the two are now just working out the final details to give the band back the land.
“This is between CPR and the band,” said Day. “Where the federal government will get involved is, once a deal is finalized between CPR and the band, then the federal government will act basically as the transfer agent ... and make sure everything is done according to law.”
A regular user of the KVR Trail himself, Day said that there has been ongoing discussions with PIB chief Jonathan Kruger to maintain access to utility, vehicle and pedestrian routes that currently run through the lands.
“All of those things need to be looked at and Chief Kruger has indicated that he wants to work with the community on all those issues,” said Day.
“I have made it clear that there needs to be a period of input for our citizens, especially those who have land that would but up or run adjacent to the KVR.
“So, both the city and the regional district will be involved in that process and Chief Jonathan Kruger has made it clear that they don’t want to just go ahead and do something (with the land), they want to hear from people. So, there will be an orderly process for people to have input.
“We are just asking people to give time for the process to officially complete between the two parties: CPR and the band. And then, the federal government will do the necessary legal transfer and there will be (a chance for) any individual that is affected to make sure that all interests and needs are looked at.”
However, not everyone is comfortable with the potential land hand over.
Last week, residents from West Bench and Sage Mesa showed up at a regional district meeting to voice their concerns. And earlier this year, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada sent out a letter requesting input regarding the potential addition of the land to Penticton Indian Reserve. In response, Penticton council voted 4-2 to write a letter back, stating that the city believes the land should be maintained in its current ownership by the citizens of Canada. Mayor Dan Ashton also sent letters to counterparts in other KVR-related municipalities asking for support.
Responding to community concerns, Kruger said that once the land had been returned to the reserve, the band would be open to discussions regarding access to the land for recreational purposes, utility line maintenance and transportation.
“Our main goal is to get it back first and then we are probably going to end up talking with the regional district and the city in the future. But I’m sure there will be liability issues (regarding public use of the KVR trail), so that is something we have to think about in the future,” said Kruger, confirming that if the liability issues could be addressed then he would have no problem with people utilizing the trail .
“I don’t want to get into any conflicts with the city or the regional district ... 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.”