The Lower Kootenay Band’s office, captured from the yard of the Yaqan Nukiy School. (Aaron Hemens photo)

Lower Kootenay Band reclaims land on Highway 21

The Band signed a settlement agreement on July 31 and will receive $1.3 million from the federal government

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.

“Canada had failed to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Indian Act and had breached its fiduciary obligations to protect the reserve, and act in the Band’s best interests, and secure proper compensation for the lands taken,” states the LKB’s release.

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.

“They can say ‘I would like to see a full disbursement to members.’ Noted. Another email might come in and say that ‘We should top-up funds for our housing,’ because housing has been an issue. It’s all noted,” said Louie.

The Band will then sift through the suggestions and tally the top three recommendations, which will later be taken to a referendum.

“This is the best process we could think of, to get that direction from the community,” said Louie.

He added that all suggestions were good suggestions, and that council wanted Band members to be in the driver’s seat so that they would be the ones who could dictate where their money would go.

“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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