The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs is backing efforts by the Okanagan Indian Band to stop logging in its land claims area while the band resolves land title issues.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said he is concerned Tolko Industries will attempt to move equipment and crews into the Brown's Creek watershed on Monday, and said the union will take all steps necessary to protect land rights in the area.
The Okanagan band insists Tolko Industries doesn't have a right to log while land claims remain unresolved, but a B.C. court ruled earlier in February that the Vernon-based logging company can begin cutting in the Browns Creek area, near Vernon.
That prompted elders and band members to pass a motion during an emergency meeting on Saturday night to establish checkpoints to monitor and regulate traffic through the community. The band is concerned that logging in the Browns Creek watershed will threaten their water supply and archeological sites.
Tolko maintains it has developed an appropriate logging plan for the area that includes protecting significant archelogical sites.
'All options on the table'
Chief Fabian Alexis of the Okanagan Indian Band said on Friday that "all options were on the table" in order to protect his community’s water.
"The provincial government has made it clear that the financial interests of Tolko are of greater concern to them than the health and safety of the people who derive their drinking and irrigation water from the Browns Creek watershed," he said.
"When it comes to protecting the watersheds that supply Vernon with its water, government agencies would not hesitate to act, but suddenly when it involves our community, our concerns are discounted. This systemic racism will not stand," said Alexis.
"Title over these forest lands is something that is before the courts, therefore for the provincial government to allow as much clear-cut logging as possible around our reserve before title reverts to us is not only utterly cynical, it is in this instance thoroughly irresponsible," he said.