Dec 13/97: Osyoos ripped off - again - in land deal



Vancouver Sun
December 13, 1997, p. B7
David Hogben

[Please note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only. -- S.I.S.I.S.]

The Okanagan Indians will receive $11.7 million in exchange for the fertile valley land, taken 120 years ago in a so-called "clerical error" but which some call theft. The property , now about 95-per-cent privately owned, is estimated to be worth $50 to $70 million.

One hundred and twenty years after a so-called "clerical error" robbed the Osoyoos Indian band of their most valuable reserve land, Chief Clarence Louie signed a deal Friday that will see his people receive $11.7 million in compensation. Louie said the deal was approved by 75 per cent of Osoyoos band voters in a recent referendum. The land value today is estimated at $50 million to $70 million. "No one jumps for joy with this settlement," Louie said after the signing ceremony with BC Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Cashore and federal Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart.

"It's like anything else, if you lose your arm, you are never going to get your arm back," Louie said of the decision to accept only a fraction of market value for the 1,7000 hectares as compensation. "In the existing political and social climate, and the realities of today, we are not going to get this land back," Louie said. The settlement calls for a federal payment of $7 million, a provincial payment of $3.1 million, $1.4 millilion in the form of a reduction in the interest rate on an economic development loan, and the remaining is interest on monies held by the band's lawyer.

The deal represents the largest settlement of a specific claim in BC history. Most are for less than $1 million and the second largest, with the Carrier-Sekani bands, was worth almost $7 million. Specific claims are usually over land removed improperly from recognized reserve lands. Comprehensive claims are the more common claims for recognition of aboriginal title of traditional native Indian territories that are usually much larger in value and area. There are currently 150 outstanding specific claims by BC Indian Bands. Louie said about $9.5 million of Friday's settlement would be used to acquire Crown or fee simple land that would be added to the Osoyoos reserve.

He said his people suffered greatly when the fertile lands along the shore of the Okanagan River were taken from his predecessors and sold to BC magistrate JC Haynes for $4,215, or $1 and acre. "It was the best bottom land that we had. After that land was removed, the reserve boundary followed the steep hillside and the rocks." Losing the land removed most of the band's access to the Okanagan River and caused many native Indians to go hungry. The land is now about 95% privately owned, and is some of the most fertile valley land between Oliver and Osoyoos. Today it is covered with orchards, ranches and residential housing.

Although a statement released jointly by the federal and provincial governments described the loss of the reserve land as a clerical error, some BC historians have a less charitable view. Former New Democratic Party provincial cabinet minister and historian Bill Barlee wrote in a research paper that the removal of the lands was "essentially theft, and that single act imposed severe economic hardship upon the band." In an academic paper, Professor Duane Thomson wrote the Osoyoos Indians were cheated out of the land "by an unholy combination of a dishonest and grasping landowner and government official, JC Haynes, acting with a government which condoned the illegal sale and afterwards steadfastly refused to amend their action."

Although the band still suffers unemployment ranging from 15 to 30 percent, it owns a number of businesses including a vineyard, a campground, a logging company, a silviculture company, a construction company and a golf course. It hopes to build a casino on its reserve land on Osoyoos Lake.

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