As Canada 150 celebrations took place across the country, the Okanagan Indian Band released information on its long outstanding land claim that predates confederation.
It was a move that was echoed by First Nations groups across the country, which used Canada 150 as an opportunity to reach out to the public with information and demonstrations.
The OKIB says it is striving to develop a relationship with Canada based on cooperation and reciprocity, saying that its members have served Canada over the past 150 years.
“It is a point of great pride that during times of conflict every able bodied man from the Okanagan Indian Band volunteered to serve during each World War,” stated a press release from the OKIB. “As Canadians celebrate the history of this country, we ask that you delve a little deeper and critically examine the current situation that the Canadian government has the power to resolve with our band.”
The OKIB says it has been working with Canada since 2004 on what is known as the Colonial Land Claim. The Colonial Reserve was laid out in 1861 by the government after negotiations with OKIB members. According to the band, the land was located at the northern end of Okanagan Lake and included a very substantial part of what is now the City of Vernon.
According to OKIB, just four years later a new government appointee developed a policy that sought to diminish the size of reserves. In 1865, without negotiation or consent by Okanagan Indian Band members, the Colonial Reserve was carved back to a fraction of its original size and excluded the most useful segments of land. The lands were then thrown open to preemption, a situation which allowed settlers to purchase stolen reserve lands at a minimum price without compensation to First Nations, stated the OKIB.
“Unsettled land claims hold us back from developing and investing in our local economy,” said OKIB chief Byron Louis. “We want to develop relationships with neighboring communities and governments, but that is difficult when we have to apply for injunctions to remind Canada that we have a land claim to the area. We don’t want to hinder development, but it shouldn’t take over 150 years for a government to do the right thing and compensate us for unlawfully taking our lands.”
The OKIB says that the Colonial Land Claim was reviewed and accepted for negotiation by Canada in 2012 and over the last five years, the parties have engaged in intense, but respectful negotiations.
“Moving forward into an era of reconciliation between Canada and indigenous people there is opportunity to resolve this outstanding land claim with the same characteristics of fairness and generosity exemplified by the OKIB throughout Canada’s history,” stated the OKIB. “The resolution of the Colonial Land Claim will provide financial compensation to Okanagan Indian Band allowing them to reinvest and undertake economic development activities that will positively impact the City of Vernon and the region as a whole.”
On Canada Day in downtown Kelowna, the Rethink150: Indigenous Truth Collective hosted an alternative to the Canada Day events happening around them.
It included traditional dancers from the The St’at’imc Bear Dance Group which spoke and danced powerfully to drums and traditional songs on the lawn in front of the Rotary Centre for Arts.
The performances were meant to challenge those who watched it.
Constitution Song is “meant to make you all feel a little uncomfortable,” said Rethink150 spokesperson Dixon Terbasket, noting the lyrics communicate indigenous resistance to stolen lands and assimilation, with lines such as ‘Canada is all Indian Land’ and ‘We don’t need your Constitution.’
“We are not performers,” one of the Bear Dancers stated in a release. “We did not come here to perform for you.” The group instead said it danced in solidarity with the resistance movement happening across Canada.
“This movement resists the dismissive celebrations of Canada’s sesquicentennial, bringing attention to indigenous perspectives and struggles. These struggles, and the colonial process which created them, require understanding from all who live on these lands we now call Canada, so we may move forward in a positive and healing way.”