The Okanagan Indian Band (OIB) launched a “protective blockade” this morning, February 23, at the Okanagan campsite near Bouleau Lake in southern British Colombia.
A member of the greater Okanagan Nation, the OIB say they have been left with no choice but to stop the logging company Tolko Industries from endangering their water supply.
“This is not an action we took lightly, nor is it one we commenced without exhausting all of our legal options,” states OIB Chief Fabian Alexis, in a recent press statement. “However given the active collusion between the Ministry of Forests and Tolko and the continued indifference of the federal government, we had no choice but to act…”
Since at least 2003, the OIB has been seeking the legal protection of their water, which is provided by the Browns Creek watershed. The region has been extensively logged for more than forty years; and now, the Okanagan People fear that any further logging will threaten their health and safety.
“The fact is that when our reserves were first established it was with the clear understanding that our water supplies would be maintained for future generations,” notes Chief Alexis. “Instead the federal government abandoned its fiduciary obligation and allowed the Province of British Columbia to sell off our water rights thus resulting in a number of fish bearing creeks that run through our reserve being reduced to dry gullies.”
“Even as these creeks ran dry the province continued to authorize the industrial clear cutting of the watersheds that provide our drinking water, thus presenting a clear threat to the safety and well being of all residents both indigenous and non-indigenous who live on and near our reserve,” he adds.
The OIB is also concerned that Tolko will cause irreparable harm to archeological sites scattered throughout the region. The Okanagan National Alliance explains:
“The Brown’s Creek Watershed is a sacred area of the Okanagan people that houses archaeological, ethno-botanical and cultural evidence that has been at the heart of litigation in the Wilson case since 1999. The litigation area is subject to a preservation order issued by Mr. Justice Sigurdson, entitling the Okanagan Nation to preserve and record evidence pertaining to Okanagan Title. Tolko’s logging plans would destroy title evidence, dating back as far as 7,500 years and extending into modern times, the Okanagan Nation have committed to ensuring that our traditional laws and governance systems are upheld for generations to come. This is our responsibility and sacred duty as Syilx (Okanagan)
Despite the governments awareness of this, and the fact that there is ongoing litigation concerning Aboriginal title in the watershed, on January 11, the British Colombia Supreme Court gave Tolko Industries permission to commence logging in eight separate “cutlbocks”.
Commenting on the decision, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Okanagan Nation Alliance stated that, “the Courts failed to deal with the proprietary nature of Aboriginal Title to the lands and resources within the territory;” and, that, as a result of the ruling, “third party interests are protected at the expense of the community’s drinking water, archaeological history and their constitutionally protected rights.”
Following this, on Feb. 20, the OIB held an emergency meeting to discuss their options. As a result of the meeting, Elders and band members unanimously agreed to establish check-points on Westside Road, which Tolko has been using without the OIB’s permission. They also agreed to establish a protective blockade in the watershed.
With the blockade now ongoing, Chief Alexis today declared a full moratorium on all logging in the watershed, stating that “no commercial logging will be permitted in these areas until further notice.”
“Finally, in order to avoid any further repeat or escalation of this conflict we would also advise the Province of British Columbia to stop issuing cutting permits in areas where their title to the land is in dispute and is still a matter to be resolved by the courts,” Chief Alexis concludes.
Chief Alexis is asking people to call their local MLAs and MPs to express their support for the OIB.
Supporters are also encourage to attend the blockade in person. If you’re in the area, a ride can possibly be arranged by contacting the Okanagan Indian Band Territorial Stewardship Office at (250) 542-7132.
For more information please contact: Chief Fabian Alexis cell (250) 306-2838, phone (250) 542-4328 or Sherry Louis, Executive Assistant Okanagan Indian Band – 12420 Westside Road, Vernon, BC, V1H 2A4 – firstname.lastname@example.org – PH: 250.542.4328 FAX: 250.542.4990
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