No Indians Allowed on Aboriginal Territory at Sun Peaks by Order of the Government of British Columbia

Article excerpt

On September 22, 2004, the RCMP raided a First Nation camp on the golf course of the Sun Peaks Resort, near Kamloops, British Columbia, arresting three people and destroying the camp. Members of local Secwepemc (also known in English as Shuswap) communities had established the camp, called the Skwelkwek'welt Protection Centre in late August to oppose the continued development of Sun Peaks on the traditional territory of the Secwepemc, Neskonlith and Adams Lake bands. In removing the camp and arresting those Skwelkwekwelt defenders who refused to leave, the police were enforcing a provincial court injunction ordering local Aboriginal activists and their supporters off the mountain. These arrests represent just one instance in the ongoing repression of Secwepemc peoples fighting for their land and dignity; during the past six years of the conflict, 54 Skewelkwek'welt defenders have been arrested.

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In November, this continuing injustice was reinforced, as a B.C. Supreme Court judge dismissed the appeal of eight Aboriginal people convicted of public mischief and intimidation after setting up roadblocks in 2001. The judge, in accordance with other decisions by the courts, rejected that the Secwepemc possess a legal and traditional right, if not responsibility, to defend their territory.

The Secwepemc never relinquished this territory to either the provincial or federal governments by either land claim or treaty. Nevertheless, the provincial government granted a master lease for the mountains to Sun Peaks, a resort that presently encompasses three mountains and hosts over 3,600 skiable acres of terrain. The master lease exempts future developments from future environmental and social impact assessments. In return for installing ski lifts, fee-simple title is granted over base land. This base land can then be sold off in what a Sun Peaks press release calls a "sonic boom in real estate opportunities."

Undaunted by the provincial court's duplicity, Secwepemc activists remain committed to resist Sun Peaks' encroachment on their land in accordance with their own laws. According to spokesperson Niki Manuel, "As Secwepemc, [we] have a duty and an obligation to protect our land." Manuel, already a victim of state persecution, having been sentenced to 45 days jail time and one year probation for occupying the land in 2002, announced that despite "racist decisions and sentences, we will not be deterred from our duty to defend and protect our homeland. The land is our life and without it our future generations will become landless, leading the Secwepemc to cultural and spiritual extinction."

There is little evidence of this commitment waning. "This was the eighth Skwelkwek'welt Protection Centre. There will be a ninth. Our rights are here and we will continue to stand our ground," vowed Arthur Manuel.

Since purchasing the resort in 1992, Nippon Cable has vigorously pursued development. Previously simply a winter ski resort, the new management has redefined the resort as "an all-seasons destination." This has increased the human presence on the mountains and their related ecological disruption. The site now employs 1,100, and is home to 400 permanent residents. On-site accommodation has increased from 100 beds to over 5,800, and lift capacity has been increased to allow for the delivery of 8,000 people a day to the mountains.

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Sun Peaks is engaged in an extensive four-phase development plan, intending to further increase capacity to 20,000 beds. The B.C. government approved the $70-million first phase of the expansion (now completed), which cut ski runs on the previously undeveloped Mt. Morrisey. In 2002, Sun Peaks boasted of the $20-million "massive new 220 room Delta hotel" sitting in the midst of booming construction. This summer, in connection with Vancouver's Olympic bid, the government approved the second phase of development totaling $285 million, further damaging the hills with trails, roads, condominiums, lifts and snowmaking equipment. …