Syilx Okanagan Nation Signs Interim Agreement for Columbia River Treaty

The Syilx Okanagan Nation has signed an historic interim agreement with British Columbia to finally begin sharing revenues received from the Columbia River Treaty which has had profound impacts on the Syilx Okanagan Nation, their territory, and their rights. Under the agreement, the Nation will receive 5% of revenue from the sale of downstream power benefits that the United States pays to Canada. The Ktunaxa Nation and the Secwépemc Nation have also signed interim agreements.

The Columbia River Treaty is a trans-boundary water management agreement between Canada and the US. Signed in 1964, the treaty was created to reduce the risk of floods and to provide energy to British Columbians and Washingtonians. It resulted in the construction of dams and reservoirs that flooded 110,000 hectares of land in BC and displaced First Nations and other communities in the Columbia River Watershed without their consent. The flood also desecrated historical Syilx Okanagan villages, sacred sites, burial grounds, and food harvesting areas, breaking many of the cultural and familial connections held with the Upper Columbia and Columbia River (nsyilxcәn word: nx̌wntkwitkw).

ki law na, Chief Clarence Louie, Okanagan Nation Alliance Tribal Chair, celebrates this recent agreement:

This Interim Revenue Sharing Agreement is a historic first step for our government-to-government relationship. For far too long, we have been excluded from decisions that directly impact the Syilx Nation. These previous decisions lacked any form of consent and often left us with only devastating impacts. With this announcement, the provincial government has demonstrated a level of integrity to finally do the right thing. In part, this is the result of continued efforts by the Okanagan Nation Alliance’s Chief Executive Council, who have asserted the need to be involved in establishing a new Columbia River Treaty. Alongside our First Nation neighbours in the Columbia River watershed — the Secwépemc Nation and Ktunaxa Nation — we are beginning a long journey of righting the historical wrongs of the past injustices with the Crown on decision-making, revenue sharing, ecosystems and Indigenous cultural values. This is only the beginning, yet we remain confident that the principles of collaboration and partnership central to these government relations will continue to create the change we all desire for our lands and waterways.

The Syilx Okanagan Nation is led by the Chiefs Executive Council, made up of seven Chiefs from Syilx Okanagan communities in Canada: Penticton, Lower Similkameen, Upper Nicola, Okanagan, Osoyoos, Westbank, and Upper Similkameen.

“We have occupied our territory including the Columbia Basin since time immemorial,” Chief Louie explains. “Our Nation has never signed a treaty with any federal or provincial governments, and we have never given up our inherent rights or responsibilities to care for our lands, waters, and resources.” Chief Louie calls his Nation’s responsibilities “sacred,” adding that the Columbia River should be “respected and protected in accordance with Syilx laws and the principles that are outlined within our Nation’s Water Declaration.” He elaborates:

Water is our life force… Salmon is in our blood because we are Salmon People. The Columbia River once sustained the largest salmon runs in the world with all the salmon species – it helped to sustain our communities for thousands of years.

“This announcement is really important, but it’s only a start,” says Chief Louie. “We continue to work with the First Nations, the Province and Canada to ensure that environmental and cultural objectives are considered in future CRT dam operations so that our Nation will have a role in decision-making, so that we can advocate for both greater environmental protections and reflecting Syilx Okanagan cultural values in future decisions.”

Since May 2018, Canada and the US have been negotiating a modernized Columbia River Treaty. Syilx Okanagan Nation, Ktunaxa Nation, and Secwépemc Nation have had representatives at these meetings as observers.

Mandell Pinder LLP lawyers Kelsey McDermott and Rosanne Kyle are honored to have assisted Syilx Okanagan Nation in this important step to secure some benefits for the Nation from the use of its lands and resources.

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