Regional district Area C director Rick Knodel spoke as a panellist at a public forum on the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan – Similkameen at the Sonora Centre on Tuesday evening. (Vanessa Broadbent / Osoyoos Times)
By Vanessa Broadbent
What was intended to be a public forum for locals to discuss the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan–Similkameen with Parks Canada brought in about 300 people, although most of them were against the park.
The South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Society (SOSPS) reached out to Parks Canada, director Lionel Trudel told attendees when the forum began, but the organization chose not to attend.
“This kind of turnout tells me a public meeting is just what we needed and sadly it was never facilitated by Parks Canada.”
Four panellists each voiced their concern for the national park reserve, and answered questions from the audience.
Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) member Dora Stelkia began by reading a letter on behalf of her 89-year-old mother Jane Stelkia, the OIB’s oldest member.
In her letter, Jane shared her experience visiting her traditional land with her family by using an all-terrain vehicle, something that would be prohibited within the national park reserve boundary.
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“I take my children, my grand children, my great grand children to these many areas, even still today. However, I now go in my ATV side-by-side. If access is denied, then how can we maintain our independence as we age and make memories, or teach our younger generations?”
While OIB chief Clarence Louie did not attend the meeting, he issued a statement earlier this month expressing concern of the band’s reputation for being pro-park.
“Neither I nor the Osoyoos Indian Band has received all the necessary information that a proper feasibility study would provide in order to have an educated opinion on being for or against the proposed national park,” he said.
An audience member asked MLA Linda Larson and MP Richard Cannings, both in the audience, why governments are hesitant to hold a referendum on the park.
“It’s never been used by Parks Canada or by the provincial government to make a decision on a national park,” Cannings said, noting that Bowen Island, referenced earlier in the meeting, wasn’t included in the original plan for Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. The local regional district was considering offering the land to Parks Canada, but let the public vote.
“As a politician, I just wonder what would a referendum accomplish other than make half the people in this valley very upset.”
Around 300 people attended a public forum on the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan – Similkameen at the Sonora Centre on Tuesday evening. (Vanessa Broadbent / Osoyoos Times)
When asked what could be done instead of a referendum, Cannings said public forums would be a start.
“I’m dismayed at the way Parks Canada has presented this whole proposal. I think we should be telling Parks Canada and they should be listening what kind of protection we want in this valley, what kind of park we want.”
Panellist and regional district Area C director Rick Knodel said implementing the park would mean sacrificing sovereignty to an entity over 2,500 miles away.
He also said that the area’s economical focus should remain on agriculture and not tourism, and voiced concern for how parks opponents are commonly perceived.
“In a large part, when you say you’re no park you get treated a little differently, like you’re a mud bogger that’s going to go stomp on a nest of baby eagles – uneducated and unwashed. That’s just not the case.”
Tony Acland, a member of the South Okanagan Similkameen Grassland Park Review Coalition said the group would instead like to see the province’s Okanagan – Shuswap Land and Resource Management Plan from 2001 implemented.
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When the floor opened for questions, several residents in the Kilpoola area expressed concern over letters received in February, stating that their property would be in the national park reserve’s boundaries.
Local land surveyor Brock Pendergraft said the proposed boundary doesn’t leave much room for development.
“If you look around town there aren’t a lot of available lots and land that’s available for development,” he said.
“In my position, seeing what there is, there’s nowhere else to grow so if we allow this we’re pretty much handicapping ourselves for the future and we’re not getting any bigger and we’ll slowly die out. People won’t want to come here if there’s not going to be any construction jobs.”
Trudel pointed out that the Town of Osoyoos has an upcoming AGM on June 17 where members of the public can address council.
Parks Canada has also stated that it will hold public information sessions to share feedback collected through its public consultation period.
“Boy, those are going to be fun,” Trudel said.
South Okanagan Similkameen Preservation Soceity director Lionel Trudel spoke as a panellist at a public forum on the proposed national park reserve in the South Okanagan – Similkameen at the Sonora Centre on Tuesday evening. (Vanessa Broadbent / Osoyoos Times)