The brother of Chief Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band (yaqan nukiy) says the band’s decision to apply for a recreational tenure in the Purcell mountains in partnership with Retallack was done in secret, without discussing it with band members.
“Things were done behind closed doors,” band member Rob Louie Jr. told the Star after he issued a news release in July. “If this is such good news, I don’t understand why my chief and council would not let the membership know about it.”
Retallack and the Lower Kootenay Band have jointly applied to the provincial government for a 700 square kilometre tenure south of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy and east of Kootenay Lake that would see heli-skiing, ski touring, mountain biking, heli-biking, hiking, heli-hiking, climbing, mountaineering, snowshoeing, dog sledding, filming, and horseback tours (see map below).
Louie frames his argument in terms of section 35 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and governments’ duty to consult Indigenous people.
“When the traditional territory, also known as Crown land, is going to be infringed,” he said, “the onus is on the Crown and indirectly on the proponent to say yes, we consulted the band in question and accommodated them to the best of our ability, and accommodation can mean compensation.”
Rob Louie Jr. says he is not against the deal in principle but “I want to see it done right. The problem here is that the information and money stopped at the door of the band council. The band members didn’t know that a mountain in their traditional territory was going to be forever altered by Retallack.”
Asked by the Star to comment, the Lower Kootenay Band did not agree to an interview but responded with an email that reads in part:
“Lower Kootenay Band acknowledges that there are differences of opinion within our own community and the larger community. Our leadership is committed to listening to all voices and carefully considering the feedback we receive about our proposed adventure tourism joint venture with Retallack. We will use the community’s feedback to fine tune our proposal into a truly exceptional one that benefits not only our community but other local communities as well.
“We can confirm that there has been ongoing community consultation with yaqan nukiy members regarding the proposal and the partnership. Further, we intend to host additional community meetings at yaqan nukiy and the other Ktunaxa communities in the future.
“Since the application for a Licence of Occupation is within the unceded traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation, consultation with Ktunaxa citizens and communities will be carried out by the Ktunaxa Lands and Resource Agency (KLRA) as per the Strategic Engagement Agreement between the province and the Ktunaxa Nation. This is the standard practice that is undertaken for projects of this type.”
The Ktunaxa Nation office in Cranbrook did not return the Star’s calls and the Colville Confederated Tribes, which includes the Sinixt First Nation whose traditional territory overlaps that of the Ktunaxa, declined to comment. The Sinixt were declared extinct in Canada by the Canadian government in 1956 and therefore have no official status when it comes to land claims or consultation about land use.
Marilyn James, a Sinixt elder who lives in the Slocan Valley, has issued a statement in a Facebook post on the recreation proposal. Her post states in part:
“The Sinixt have many reasons for not wanting the expansion due to impacts on critical habitat and impacts to threatened species. The proposed operations are to be in a year-round cycle with no definitive down times during critical birthing, nesting, hibernation, and feeding cycles by local sensitive species. Not to mention the short time frame for public response to this proposal, minimizing a critical opportunity to create the science-based data to demonstrate the validity of our concerns.
“Before any more land, resources, tenure, proposed reserve or whatever is granted to any group whether tribal or industry, the Sinixt question needs to be addressed,” James wrote.
The possible disagreement within the Lower Kootenay Band raises issues about the role of band governments and their relation to their members and to other governments, according to Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, a landscape historian and author of The Geography of Memory.
She says the band council system, created by the Indian Act, “can be a divisive political structure on reserve lands. The Indian Act needs to be broadly reformed under First Nations guidance, or repealed carefully, so that Indigenous peoples can reclaim their ability to govern themselves as they choose.”