12420 Westside Road, Vernon, BC V1T 7Z3
Phone: 250-542-4328 / Fax: 250-542-4990
November 28, 2005
For Immediate Release (Vernon) Okanagan Indian Band Chief Fabian Alexis today reported on high-level meetings in Kelowna on Friday with BC Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister Tom Christensen and federal Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Andy Scott.
“It was a definite study in contrasts,” commented Chief Alexis. “Our Friday afternoon meeting with provincial Minister Tom Christensen was short and decisive while our Friday evening meeting with federal Minister Andy Scott was lengthy and inconclusive.”
“Minister Christensen was quick to state British Columbia’s clear intention to remain at the bargaining table,” said Chief Alexis. “He even went so far to say that he would personally contact federal Minister Scott in order to strongly encourage Canada to do likewise.”
“Clearly when it comes to our Commonage Claim negotiations the Okanagan Indian Band and BC are on the same page,” noted Chief Alexis. “We both believe that meaningful negotiation is better than litigation and confrontation.”
“In contrast”, continued Chief Fabian Alexis, “while federal Minister Scott acknowledged our sense of frustration and betrayal and stated his desire to regain our trust, he did not commit to stay at the negotiating table”.
“The one positive thing we did get from Minister Scott was a commitment ‘not to sign off’ on any recommendations from his staff to end negotiations on our Commonage Claim,” said Chief Alexis. “Minister Scott also committed to get back to us by tomorrow with a written response on the status of our negotiations.”
“Thanks to the strong support we received from all the regional and national aboriginal leaders sitting with us, Minister Scott also opened the door to having the Commonage Claim put forward as a test case under a new policy framework that is being developed,” said Chief Alexis. “On this point I am pleased to say that the support from the aboriginal Leadership Council is overwhelming – it is obvious that we are not alone in this struggle and these leaders are to be commended for their commitment to our cause.”
“It is incumbent on the Leadership Council to provide unwavering support to the Okanagan Band, wherever this Claim may go, and we extend this support without qualification until the claim is justly resolved”, stated Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
Grand Chief Ed John, of the First Nations Summit made clear his desire: “I do not wish to see Canada hiding behind policy limitations or our agreements to review and recommend changes to policy. There is no reason why a claim previously accepted for negotiation by former Minister Robert Nault should not be continued by this government. Moving forward and resolving this claim in good faith is entirely consistent with the agreement which our joint leadership council has just negotiated with the federal and provincial governments.”
“We stand with the Okanagan Band on this and they can expect our public support which I made clear to all in attendance at Friday’s meeting and in direct discussion with Chief Alexis following the meeting”, stated Shawn Atleo, Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations.
“The test case is an option we will be pursuing,” commented Chief Alexis, “but the prospect of having our negotiations put on hold while Ottawa does yet another policy review is worrisome and we need to be clear that we have very little patience for further delays.”
“The Commonage, which is Indian Reserve # 9, was taken from us without our knowledge or consent. We were never compensated. We have been waiting a very long time, 130 years, to have our claim resolved. We are determined to negotiate a full and fair restitution for the loss of this land,” concluded Chief Alexis.
For further information please contact Chief Fabian Alexis at (250) 306-2838.