The national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen is moving ahead.
On Tuesday, the federal and provincial governments and the Okanagan Nation signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the next steps and providing a framework for collaborating at the at Nk’Mip Desert at 1000 Rancher Creek in Osoyoos.
Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change who is also the minister responsible for Parks Canada, gave the park a two-year timeline with further consultations with both the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band happening as the next steps.
The working boundaries of the proposed park were also outlined on July 2. The park area is 273 square kilometres of natural and cultural landscapes in the Mt. Kobau, Spotted Lake and Kipoola areas of the South Okanagan-Similkameen area, including B.C. Parks’ South Okanagan Grasslands Protected Area.
Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band said he is looking forward to moving on with establishing the park in a way that works for the First Nations.
“The Smelqmix people have always protected the land. We view this process as a way to work with our partners to implement culturally informed management practices. We look forward to working closely with all our neighbour.”
“I want to say lim ‘limpt (thank you) to the negotiating team, comprised of representatives from the Osoyoos Indian Band, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the provincial and federal governments who hand many meetings and spent hundreds of hours developing an innovative memorandum of understanding that sets the framework for future negotiation,” said chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band, who added this is a chance to take the needed measures to protect an important habitat.
But not everyone was happy with the development. While MP Richard Cannings called it a good day that has been long in the process, Oliver resident Jesse Norton interrupted the presentation saying he couldn’t keep quiet.
Norton later said the announcement is really hard to swallow because people have been trying to oppose the park for years. He doesn’t think the government has listened to stakeholders in the region.
“You can see this clearly has nothing to do with conservation and preservation but more about political issues. I’m all for reconciliation but I think you can see it has a lot to do with other things,” he said after the announcement.
After Norton interrupted, Chief Louie told him his interrupting the process was “embarrassing.”
According to the press release, the park will protect a rare ecosystem, contribute to conservation and enjoyment of nature, help save species at risk, strengthen biodiversity, advance reconciliation with Indigenous people’s and preserve opportunities for Syilx and Okanagan Nation cultural practices to continue.