First Nations signal support for a National Park in South Okanagan

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The Similkameen River runs through First Nations territory. Photo by Chloe O’Loughlin.
The Similkameen River runs through First Nations territory. Photo by Chloe O’Loughlin.

Osoyoos — The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) has released a new report, deeming the National Park in South Okanagan Lower Similkameen as feasible to move ahead to the next phase of negotiations.

“It has taken eight years to ensure that the Okanagan Nation is in a position to be able to weigh in on what’s important to the Syilx people and how the future of the land and people should be protected,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chair of the ONA. ”There is now sufficient confidence to carry forward to the next phase of discussion of a potential park.”

There still remain matters to be addressed through discussions. For example, the current Park plan is insufficient in size to promote the Syilx vision for protection of Syilx cultural and ecological integrity in the South Okanagan. Another outstanding issue is the role of British Columbia.

“The report, Building a Syilx Vision for Protection, was developed by the Syilx Parks Working Group, and came from our people upholding their responsibility to protect the land from encroachment by people who have a different view of utilizing the land and resources,” stated Chief Edward of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band. “Parks Canada has been more receptive to how the Park will be operated. There is now a growing relationship, and greater trust and respect.”

The next phase will provide additional information and seek clarity on how issues, such as Syilx inherent rights (harvesting, hunting), collaborative decision-making, and the inclusion of traditional ecological knowledge in park management and decision-making will be included in potential park management and decision-making models.

“The Okanagan Chiefs look forward to discussing with the Province of BC the findings of this report,” said the Grand Chief Phillip. ”One key interest in this area is protection of certain rights and values and a National Park reserve is one mechanism worth exploring through further negotiations.”