Judge Puts Hostilities Between Okanagan Nation And Tolko Industries On Hold

By Frank Larue

On March 12th, the Okanagan First Nation and Tolko Industries came to a compromise, and could resolve their disagreement outside of court. Tolko agreed to have archeological studies of the area redone after the snow has melted and before they attempt any further logging of the area.

“This was in important concession for Tolko to make,” said Okanagan band Chief Fabian Alexis. “How can you map out historic trails and other artifacts when everything is covered in three to six feet of snow? Now there is an opportunity for a proper archeological survey to be done without the intimidation and rush-job nature of the previous one.”

On February 17th, Tolko had won a court decision allowing the company to log in Browns Creek on the west side of Okanagan Lake. The Okanagan band reacted by banning all Tolko vehicles from driving through the reserve. A blockade was established near Bouleau Lake so Tolko Industries could not harvest trees. “Title for the area is a matter that is presently before the courts,” Chief Alexis stated in a press release. “The Crown has been unable to produce any documentation showing acquisition of the title from the Okanagan Nation.” AFN Chief Shawn Atleo endorsed the decision, stating, “I would like to offer my support to Chief Fabian Alexis and the members of the Okanagan Indian Band in their efforts to protect their community’s water supply.”

The hostilities have been put on hold until both parties appear in court to discuss the results of the studies. “Justice Brown has ordered that Tolko and the OKIB/Okanagan Nation appear back before her on April 9th,” Chief Alexis said, “ for a full day hearing on the archaeology. So we have a few weeks to see what other progress all involved parties can make in the interim. It seemed so clear that to see resolution of this dispute outside of court we need to have the involvement of both the Government of Canada and the province of BC.”

The government presence is pivotal to a resolution, and since the local MLA George Abbott is also BC minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, a deal could be made. Chief Alexis said, “Such an approach would not only protect our drinking water supply but also help protect the Okanagan basin, which is under increasing environmental duress. This is an issue that I know Minister Abbott is concerned about; and here is an historic opportunity for him to do something significant about it. Such an approach would represent a win for not only Tolko and the Okanagan Indian Band but all the residents of the Okanagan valley.”