The Okanagan Indian Band will be receiving $30 million from the federal government in anticipation of a long-awaited land claim settlement — with funds going to support the band’s purchase of the O’Keefe Range Lands.
In a news release, the federal government said negotiations to resolve the Colonial Reserve IR 1 Specific Claim have taken place for 11 years.
On Tuesday, the government announced an innovative agreement had been reached, where an advanced payment of $30 million will be made to the band, to be applied against the anticipated settlement. The government said this is the first time it has made such an agreement with a First Nations community.
OKIB Chief Byron Louis acknowledged Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, for his involvement in the agreement.
“Canada showed great foresight with this agreement, which will allow us to take advantage of a rare opportunity to expand our reserve lands,” Louis said in a statement.
“We’ve been negotiating for over 11 years and now need to work with Canada to take the final steps to resolve the claim itself.”
According to the federal government, the claim addresses disputed lands the band said were allocated to it in 1861, but were then reduced in size four years later by the colonial government of B.C. without community consultation.
The government said it will continue working to achieve a final settlement as soon as possible.
In a statement, Miller said this agreement marks a “long overdue step.”
“After 11 years of negotiations due to broken relationships and trust, Canada is taking a step to renew our relationship with the community and to be a Treaty partner that First Nations deserve,” Miller said.
“This innovative approach to support the acquisition of the O’Keefe Range Lands before the final settlement of the specific claim demonstrates Canada’s commitment to renewing our relationships with Indigenous Peoples.”
The OKIB reached an agreement in late 2021 to purchase the 2,320 acre rangeland for $26.8 million.
The large tract of land, located in the hills above Vernon’s Bella Vista and Turtle Mountain areas has development potential, with part of the property located inside city limits.
In an earlier interview with Castanet, Louis said the deal heralds the potential for greater co-operation between OKIB and the City of Vernon, and noted any kind of development is still a few years out.