After signing a settlement agreement with the Canadian government on July 31 regarding the reclamation of Highway 21 that runs through reserve land, the Lower Kootenay Band (LKB) will receive $1.3 million from the federal government later this fall and is now seeking community input on how to allocate these funds.
“This is just the beginning of a process that really empowers the Lower Kootenay Band, when our power was taken away from us,” said Nasukin Jason Louie of the LKB.
In 1897, the Bedlington and Nelson Railway Company built and operated a railway line on reserve land that extended from northern Idaho to Kuskanook, B.C.
The railway line was abandoned in 1914, and instead of transferring the land back to the Band, it was given to the province, which built Porthill Highway — now known as Highway 21 — in 1928.
“Consequently, (the province) took the land without any consultation with or permission from the Band or from Canada, and without paying any compensation to the Band,” said the LKB.
The Band launched a specific claim in 2011 against the federal government, arguing that Canada had breached its obligations to the Band during the establishment of the highway on reserve land.
Louie described signing off on the settlement agreement as bittersweet.
“Why did it take almost 130 years? It’s a victory for the Lower Kootenay Band, but it’s bittersweet because we’re talking about 130 years,” he said.
The Band has a system in place until Aug. 31 where the Band’s 200-plus members can email or phone-in suggestions on how they think the funds should be used.
“Historically, their voices have been ignored and I want to do everything to avoid that, even the potential of power being taken away from the people,” he said. “They’re the ones who voted us in, so whatever we can do — in particular with this money, this is community money — to empower them to use their voices to direct us.”
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