The regional district has come to the aid of the Sinixt people as they continue to battle to avoid the “extinction” label the federal government has placed on them in Canada.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) board of directors has sent a letter to the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) on behalf of the Sinixt people, the indigenous peoples who have lived primarily in the West Kootenay for at least 10,000 years.
The board is requesting AAND suspend granting reservation lands to First Nation communities within the traditional territory of the Sinixt people, and has asked the federal government to also reconsider the declaration that the Sinixt people are extinct.
For over 30 years there have been land exchanges made by the federal government in the Okanagan Valley on WFN land to help build Highway 97, with the 2011 Westside Road Interchange facilitating the latest transfer with the Fauquier property — one of six in the deal — sparking the debate.
As a result, the WFN created a 10-site campground on the Fauquier property, for the use of WFN members only. The WFN is one of a few First Nations in Canada with a self-government agreement.
Early last month the Westbank First Nation (WFN) members came to Fauquier Hall in the Arrow Lakes region to discuss with the community the land exchange process with the federal government to create a reserve on a 4.6-acre property in Fauquier.
The meeting also featured people from two other aboriginal groups — the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Sinixt people — who also lay claim to the Arrow Lakes region.
The meeting was precipitated by the regional district after the federal government asked for a letter of support for the transaction, but the RDCK required a public meeting on the matter and has since balked at the request.
The regional district contended that the reserve lands would not be subject to local government regulations, and that to be a separate community in “someone else’s territory” put the community of Fauquier in conflict with the WFN.
For its part, the WFN said it does enter into service agreements with the neighbouring local governments in all its territories — and reviews the agreements each year — and could negotiate a payment for services such as fire protection.
The WFN is currently paying the annual $3,400 taxes on the property because it is still fee simple — a permanent and absolute tenure of an estate in land with freedom to dispose of it at will, especially in full fee simple absolute a freehold tenure.
Today the Sinixt people live primarily on the Colville Indian Reservation across the border in Washington — as part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation — while some Sinixt continue to reside in the Slocan Valley.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are recognized by the United States government as an American Indian Tribe, however, the Canadian government declared the Sinixt extinct in 1956.
But the Sinixt have not gone quietly as several members of Nation have contested the extinction, filing court documents to reclaim land rights in the West Kootenay, where about 80 per cent of their ancestral territory lies.
In 2008 the Sinixt Nation Society filed a lawsuit claiming aboriginal title to Crown land in the West Kootenay, “asserting a right (for the Sinixt) to be consulted, and to consent to all uses or dispositions of Crown land within that territory.”
At the same time, the area is being contested for claim as Ktunaxa traditional territory, with the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Treaty Council currently negotiating a treaty with the federal government and the province over the region, particularly the lower Kootenay River area around Nelson and Castlegar, the Slocan Valley and as far north as the Mica Dam.