Okanagan Nation asks government to reconsider abandoning national park

The Okanagan Nation is exploring a partnership with Parks Canada, while urging the creation of a national park in the South Okanagan,

Four South Okanagan First Nation bands want the government to reconsider its decision to abandon the creation of a national park in the Okanagan.

“At this point in time, the Okanagan Nation Alliance strongly urges both the Governments of Canada and British Columbia to revisit their premature and hasty decision to abandon the South Okanagan Park proposal until full consultations have taken place with the First Nations of the south Okanagan and Similkameen valleys,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.

Representatives of the Okanagan Nation were among the first to respond to the possibility of a national park reserve in the South Okanagan and Similkameen region about a decade ago.

The Lower Similkameen, Osoyoos, Upper Similkameen and Penticton bands, with the support of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, are now engaging their communities and seeking a common vision for a Okanagan Nation/Parks Canada protected area.

For the past year, the bands had been engaged in collaborative discussions with Parks Canada seeking shared understanding and mutual benefit. Discussions are centred on Txasqin (Kobau, Chopaka, Kilpoola) and the Vaseux Lake area.

“Our work with Parks Canada may provide future partnerships and will assist us in determining what will be the best direction for taking care of our lands,” said Lower Similkameen Indian Band Chief Robert Edward in a statement.

“The health of our land, community and future generations is of utmost importance. The lands of our ancestors are an issue always worthy of continued discussions.”

Edward said the band has come a long was from its position of opposition to a national park in 2008.

The Okanagan Nation and Parks Canada have found common interests and concerns, including water, biodiversity and species at risk, and integrating economic opportunities such as ecotourism with ecological health, he said.

“Business as usual” doesn’t provide the Okanagan Nation or local communities with control over future development within the South Okanagan, Edward added.

“We are optimistic that solutions can be found,” he said.