The Canadian government signed off on the Porthill Highway specific land claim agreement between the Lower Kootenay Band (LKB) late last month. Then on Nov. 5 Band members voted to distribute the full $1.3 million from the federal government across LKB membership.
“Ultimately, this is the Band members’ money. This was our democracy at work. They voted, and spoke loud and clear of what they want,” said Nasukin Jason Louie of the LKB.
More than 100 eligible Band members will receive approximately $5,000 each, and Louie said that he hopes that funds will begin to be distributed sometime next week.
The LKB has around 250 members, but those members under the age of 18 will have their funds held in trust by the Band until they reach the age of majority.
“Every member will get their share, an equal share,” said Heather Suttie, the LKB’s director of operations.
The LKB launched the specific claim against the federal government in 2011, arguing that Canada had breached its obligations to the Band during the establishment of Porthill Highway — now known as Highway 21 — on reserve land.
In 1897, the Bedlington and Nelson Railway Company built and operated a railway line on reserve land that extended from northern Idaho to Kuskanook, B.C.
The railway line was abandoned in 1914, and instead of transferring the land back to the Band, it was given to the province, which built Porthill Highway in 1928.
“Consequently, (the province) took the land without any consultation with or permission from the Band or from Canada, and without paying any compensation to the Band,” stated the LKB in an Aug. 12 press release.
The LKB signed off on the settlement on July 31, and Louie said that he feels a deep sense of relief now that Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett has signed the agreement.
“For me, personally, I feel very happy that this judicial system — which I believe was set up to destroy us — we used that very system to fight and win, and that alone is such a big victory for the Band,” said Louie. “We can right the historical wrongs of the past. This is just monumental for the LKB.”
He paid tribute to the LKB administration and leadership — past and present — for their efforts in settling this claim.
“Our Elders and previous leadership really paved the way for us to get there. They were my mentors, my inspiration for doing what we did today,” he said. “In no way am I accepting sole responsibility for this outcome … This was definitely a team effort to get here.”
He noted that with this claim now settled, the LKB is looking to settle more claims with the federal government in the future.
“This was somewhat of a test-run of setting the foundation of the policies we developed,” he said. “I can’t say it was easy, but I think we worked out the majority of the kinks that will be set in the future.”