B.C.’s environment minister has rejected an appeal by the Okanagan Nation Alliance to reconsider withdrawing provincial support for a national park, at least for now.
In a press release Monday, Alliance chair Grand Chief Stewart Phillip urged both senior levels of government to “revisit” their respective decisions relating to the park.
“I’m not sure what to make of it (Alliance release)” Minister Terry Lake told the Western News this week. “We’ve made our decision and that’s not going to change at this time. We’re not entering into that process but we are certainly interested in discussing other ways of protecting those ecosystems and species, but not through a national park at this time.”
Citing a lack of majority local public support for the plan, Lake announced in late December B.C. was shelving its involvement in the process for the “foreseeable future.”
Although Parks Canada officials would not comment verbally on the matter, a month later an announcement on its website acknowledged B.C.’s jurisdiction and stated out of respect it was ceasing public consultation with stakeholders.
Attempts Tuesday to contact Richard Carson, Parks Canada’s director of western establishment initiatives, about whether or not the federal agency would continue to honour its commitment were unsuccessful.
“I know Parks Canada has been working with First Nations in the area who were much opposed to the idea back in 2008 and obviously their opinion has changed a little bit since,” said Lake. “Regardless, they (federal government) can’t move forward on a national park without the province, and we’ve made it clear we’re not going to do that at this time.”
According to Phillip, during their recent discussions the Okanagan Nation and Parks Canada had identified common interests and concerns about issues such as water, biodiversity and species at risk as well as economic opportunities like combining eco-tourism with ecological health.
“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 Phillip in the release.
Also quoted was Chief Rob Edward of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band who stated: “We are optimistic that solutions can be found. We have come a long way from our position of opposition in 2008.”
Phillip said his quote earlier about not seeing a national park in the region in the “foreseeable future” was not in opposition to the plan, but a lack of surprise at the government’s decision due to tough economic times.
He also reiterated his previous comments the Alliance would fully support the south Valley Indian bands (Lower Similkameen, Osoyoos, Upper Similkameen, and Penticton) in whatever position they take.
“It will be interesting to see if British Columbia is going to reconsider because it would appear at this point that B.C. is holding the key,” said Phillip.
Edward also believes working with Parks Canada will assist bands in determining the best direction for taking care of their lands.
“The lands of our ancestors are an issue always worthy of continued discussions,” said the chief.
In a subsequent news release, Chloe O’Loughlin, director of terrestrial conservation for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society B.C. Chapter, applauded the efforts by the Alliance to get the province back to the table. She urged Lake to take a “solutions-oriented approach” to the situation to benefit both the environmental and economic health of the region.
By Mark Brett, Black Press