By Richard McGuire
Special to the Chronicle
The Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB) says it is willing to work with federal and provincial governments, along with other local bands, on the renewed discussions to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen.
The band issued a statement on Wednesday that emphasized its willingness to be involved in the process, but implying that its support will hinge on the outcome of discussions.
“Planning discussions will commence once Parks Canada has jointly established a government-to-government pathway with the LSIB,” said the statement. “LSIB’s position on the establishment of a national park reserve will be defined during this phase of discussions.”
Chief Keith Crow attended the Oct. 27 event at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre near Osoyoos by the three levels of government to announce the renewed discussion aimed at establishing a national park reserve.
Crow did not address the event, but he stood with Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) Chief Clarence Louie, along with other First Nations leaders, while Louie spoke in support.
Under the direction of the LSIB community, Chief Crow and band council will engage in this renewed commitment “as a full decision maker and partner to lead and shape the process,” the statement said.
First Nations leaders say the discussions will be guided by the 2012 Sylix Feasibility Study, which was publicly released in 2013.
In addition to the LSIB, the OIB, Penticton Indian Band and Okanagan Nation Alliance are working together in discussions with the federal and provincial governments.
“We look forward to reengaging in a collaborative, rights-based process and are committed to building a vision and concept for a protected area that is beneficial to all,” the LSIB said.
Noting the importance of a respectful and inclusive relationship, the LSIB said the Okanagan People have traditional decision-making mechanisms that it expects to be upheld and honoured throughout all phases of discussions.
“Any decision concerning a national park reserve will impact our people for generations, including our title lands, way of life and continued ability to fulfill our responsibilities,” said Chief Crow. “This discussion is not solely about creating a park – it is about the future of sməlqmix people, lands and waters.”
LSIB pointed to the area’s role as a home for threatened and endangered wildlife, habitats and waterways, much of which is under threat from development and resource extraction.
“The health of the land is inextricably linked to the health and wellbeing of the Similkameen People,” the statement said. “The spirit of the land is mirrored in our People… The LSIB has always had a responsibility to protect these areas and always will.”