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National park discussions continue behind closed doors

Progress is being made in talks about the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan, but most discussions are taking place behind closed doors. 

The talks, involving representatives from the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Parks Canada and local governments have been quietly continuing over the months since the Memorandum of Understanding was signed last July. The agreement marked a major step in the process, but little has been heard since.

The proposed national park reserve has been met with controversy over the years, with some residents strongly opposing the park. 

Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff believes this mostly related to the free rein that residents now have to use much of the back country. After engaging with stakeholders, Parks Canada addressed many of the concerns during public meetings last spring, but what the end result will be is still up in the air. 

One of the biggest hurdles the park reserve faces is that of Aboriginal right and title in the area. With cultural significant places like Spotted Lake within the proposed park boundary, special care has been placed on the inclusion and consultation of local Indigenous groups moving forward.

Chief Clarence Louie from the Osoyoos Indian Band and Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band have both been included in all stages of talks thus far — neither could be could be reached for comment by press deadline Wednesday.

Parks Canada also says negotiations are moving forward, but the input of residents, local stakeholders and all Canadians must be taken into consideration, calling it a “complex process.”

“Parks Canada and its partners, including the province and the Lower Similkameen and Osoyoos Indian Bands, will continue working together, diligently and patiently, towards this goal, as they move through the early phases of negotiations towards an establishment agreement,” Parks Canada told the Osoyoos Times in an unattributed email statement. 

Parks Canada also stated that they remain committed to continue to engage with municipal governments and regional directors to identify and solve any further issues raised during the ongoing negotiations, but “no approach has been confirmed at this time.”

In a phone call last week, South Okanagan-West Kootney MP Richard Cannings said meetings have taken place and things are “moving along smoothly, but slowly.” 

He noted that talks are continuing between the federal government, Syilx/Okanagan Nation Alliance representatives and Parks Canada, but the park reserve is a complicated issue.

His statements were mirrored by McKortoff, who is excluded from talks and negations because the park will no longer cross Osoyoos town boundaries. She does support the park, however, because she believes it will support tourism and bring more jobs to the Osoyoos area.

Sophie Gray, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Osoyoos Times

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