Logging near Harper Lake, about five kilometres southwest of Chase, has accentuated the need for better long-term management for the area, says Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson.
Wilson explains the band spoke to the Okanagan Shuswap Natural Resource District about their concerns, which included lack of consultation, about the land just above Neskonlith reserve #2 – land which the First Nation has never sold, surrendered or ceded.
“The province not only holds a duty to consult, but must obtain consent and meet its responsibilities for the environment and conservation for Harper Lake as it is a sensitive area for returning Rocky Mountain Elk, the eco-system, riparian zones/waterways and recreation sites,” she stated in a news release.
She told the Market News the band was surprised when, despite discussions with the ministry, the logging permit for 28 hectares was issued on Nov. 29.
“We don’t feel Okanagan-Shuswap forest district really understood or really meant to do anything about our concerns. We need to get back to the discussions to see what we can do about protecting the area, forest health and planning for the area.”
Neskonlith councillor Art Anthony said there have been issues since the province put the woodlot next to IR (Indian Reserve) #2.
“The previous owner used to restrict everyone from going up there; that’s our traditional hunting and gathering area. People would go up there and would be told to get out,” Anthony said.
“The new owner here, he’s different than the other one, he showed us what he was doing there. We went to the Okanagan Shuswap Forest District – we told all our issues, they listened and that’s about as far as we got. They didn’t get back on the issues we outlined. The next thing we hear, they OK’d the permit – so here we are.”
This is a relatively small block, he says, and logging is the ministry’s way of dealing with root rot. He emphasizes the key issue is consultation. Neskonlith would like to see the woodlot deleted from the provincial government’s system and perhaps set up somewhere else for the owner.
“We’d like to have our input in development within our area. It affects us immediately; this is right next door to us.”
He says the band has had issues with water since the woodlot was put in.
“There was a little pond down at the bottom on IR2, now it’s a lake. It’s growing about 20 times bigger than it was, ever since the wood lot got put in there.”
Wilson said the band would like the animals to come back, like the Rocky Mountain elk. Moose also used to frequent the area.
Band elders walked through the area on Monday, spreading prayers and tobacco. A small bobcat was spotted.
In 1999, the Neskonlith band was the one doing the logging near the land in question. The logging was done off-reserve to demonstrate it was Neskonlith territory and became the basis for the Harper Lake Logging case, which never went to court.
“Although it’s in abeyance for 16 years, the province recognized a right to harvest, Wilson said.
The logging was done following the Delgamuukw Decision, she said, which recognized aboriginal title on a territorial scale. Their action emphasized the province could not continue with its business-as-usual approach, disregarding its duty and obligations.
In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada’s Tsilhqot’in decision reinforced aboriginal title, giving full aboriginal title of approximately 1,900 square kilometres to the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
The Okanagan Shuswap Natural Resource District could not be reached prior to press time.