Letter: Chief Robert Louie

To the editor:

Dear Sir:

Perhaps it was to be expected that as we come close to the finish line with Westbank First Nation Self-government, those who have not been as involved so closely with the process of negotiations over the past 14 years are asking questions at the eleventh hour (self-government requires more scrutiny - editorial Daily Courier March 24th 2004). It is unfortunate, however, when legitimate questions become tainted by misinformation. The concerns raised in the editorial about section 102 in our Agreement dealing with additions to reserve are such an example.

Today and quite apart from self-government, First Nations may apply to the Governor in council to have lands added to their reserve base. This is normal. The process for doing this is under a national federal policy (the Additions to Reserve Policy). The policy requires the federal government and the provincial government to consent to the addition. Municipalities are consulted.

Your readers will be aware that there is recent direct experience with this process in the Central Okanagan. After 17 years of negotiations, cooperation and agreement with all affected local governments, including a signed contractual agreement with both Federal and Provincial Governments, Westbank added 3,000 acres of land in south East Kelowna to its reserve - the Gallagher Canyon lands in 2000. The result, concessions made by all parties. The sky did not fall.

The Additions to Reserve Policy addresses local government tax concerns where jurisdiction for taxation switches from a local government to a First Nation. Similar in some respects to when municipal boundaries are changed or new municipalities are created and property tax jurisdiction shifts. The federal policy prescribes a detailed process for negotiations and consultation with local government and provides for compensation to the local government where appropriate. Tax agreements for service delivery are typical. For example, today Westbank purchases services from the Central Okanagan Regional District (CORD). These were initially negotiated when tax jurisdiction shifted from CORD to Westbank First Nations.

The Westbank Self-government Agreement in section 102 continues the existing federal policy for Additions to Reserve and creates no new rights for Westbank First Nation or local government. It would be unfair and a breech of the signed Self-government Agreement to alter the application of this national policy to Westbank.

Westbank and Canada in good faith negotiated a fair and balanced Agreement. Our Agreement is about stable and accountable government. Now is the time for completion of the legislative process in order that Westbank First Nations can get on with establishing a modern form of governance that will protect the interests of both members and non-Members residing on our Lands and allow us to be good governance neighbors to our friends at City Hall.

-Chief Robert Louie

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