Conservation area renamed a Ktunaxa Cultural Landscape

Land stays as Crown land, but renamed to reflect cultural lens of local First Nations band

A piece of land on the east side of Columbia Lake will now be recognized first and foremost through the cultural lens of the local First Nations band.

The 6,886 hectare property is known as the East Side Columbia Lake Wildlife Management Area. The land is reserved as a conservation area and provides important winter range for ungulates, staging areas for waterfowl, and vital habitat for many other species, according to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. That property will now be identified as a ‘Ktunaxa Cultural Landscape’.

The Ktunaxa Nation, which includes the local community of Akisqnuk, will be managed “primarily for Ktunaxa cultural values,” says Garry Merkel, treaty negotiator for the Ktunaxa Nation. However, he adds, that does not mean just Ktunaxa values will dictate land use in that area.

The area will still be designated provincial crown land with no ownership transferred to the Ktunaxa. The recognition will be symbolic for the Nation.

“It’s quite symbolic partly because of its location, right in the heart of the (Ktunaxa) Creation story,” says Mr. Merkel. But also, he adds, “it’s a largely unencumbered piece of land in terms of land interests. Everybody has a strong interest in protecting values on that side of the lake anyway … this gives us a vehicle to work together on this.”

Akisqnuk Chief Alfred Joseph confirms this land is culturally significant to the Ktunaxa people. It was a battleground site, and also a transportation route, to name a few.

“To have it preserved as natural as possible, I think it’s a very big and important move,” says Chief Joseph.

Mr. Merkel says there are no existing pieces of land in B.C. with this exact designation, so there are a lot of unknowns right now.

“We’re still in the process of working out the details of what that will look like with the Province,” he says.

The unknowns are what raised concerned discussion at Canal Flats regular Council meeting Monday, January 14th. A Columbia Lake East Side Partnership meeting was held December 12th in the village, with Mayor Karl Sterzer, Councillors Marie Delorme and Douglas McCutcheon, and CAO Adrian Bergles, as well as representatives of the Ktunaxa treaty negotiation team, the Province of B.C., elected RDEK Area F and G representatives, and the Columbia Lake Stewardship Society. This change in recognition for the land was presented at the meeting by Mr. Merkel. A staff report prepared by Mr. Bergles states “It is unclear what this will mean administratively for the Village of Canal Flats for this land within its municipal boundaries.”

Mr. McCutcheon asked if concerns have been addressed about the portion of land that lies within municipal boundaries. He said at the meeting in December, it felt like there was no direction provided.

Ms. Delorme, acting mayor in Mr. Sterzer’s absence, suggested the village schedule a meeting with MLA Doug Clovechok (who sits on the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs) after Council deliberation on the matter.

The Ktunaxa Cultural Landscape is one small element to a treaty negotiation that has been underway for the past 20+ years, says Mr. Merkel. He feels the treaty negotiations are going well, though he hesitates to put a date on when the treaty will be finalized. The treaty negotiations took a turn towards a new approach recently, he adds.

“We’ve fundamentally revised the process,” he says. “We’re very hopeful our new approach will get us to a final treaty way quicker than the last process … I feel very optimistic we’re a lot closer because we’ve realigned this to more accurately reflect the proper intergovernmental constitutional relationship.”

The final treaty will recognize the Ktunaxa as a distinct government body, Mr. Merkel explains.

The treaty made news in December 2018 when a Recognition & Core Treaty Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between Canada, B.C. and the Ktunaxa Nation. According to a press release in December, the MOU will guide the three parties in the development of a rights recognition approach to a treaty, and lead to the recognition of the Ktunaxa Nation Council as the legal government and rights-holder of the Ktunaxa Nation.

“I am very pleased that the three parties have agreed to adopt an approach that explicitly and properly recognizes our inherent rights as Ktunaxa,” said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Council chair. “This agreement ensures the ongoing relationship between the Ktunaxa and provincial and federal governments will be based on mutual respect and understanding and is a key step on the path towards reconciliation.”

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