As a result of a partnership between two Native bands and Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops, work is currently underway on an $8 million mixed commercial and staff housing development complex at the west end of the resort in the Burfield subdivision.
On Sept. 25 Little Shuswap Indian Band Chief Felix Arnouse and Whispering Pines Indian Chief Richard LeBourdais met on site with Sun Peaks vice-president Darcy Alexander to officially launch the project.
"This venture marks an ongoing commitment to joint business opportunities between Sun Peaks and local First Nations communities and is an important collaborative project," said Alexander. "The employee housing and commercial complex will be wholly-owned by a joint venture company including the two First Nation bands."
Four two-storey buildings, each with 12 four-bedroom apartments are included in the complex. Each building will house 48 staff.
Originally the project was slated to be built close to area residents, on the south side of Todd Mountain Road. When locals raised concerns, which included objections to increased traffic and the resulting noise nuisance, Sun Peaks officials reacted. After examining all the options they altered their plans, relocating the complex closer to the Burfield Lodge and chairlift.
Upon learning of Sun Peaks' employee housing shortage some time ago. Chief Arnouse took the initiative, calling Darcy Alexander to express an interest in the project.
"We have to seize every opportunity to work with Sun Peaks if we want to succeed as a band and as a business."
Under the joint venture agreement the Little Shuswap Band will initially own 25 per cent of the complex with an option to purchase up to 50 per cent. The band currently operates the Quaaout Lodge Resort on Little Shuswap Lake near Chase.
Chiefs Arnouse and LeBourdais predict the joint venture will eventually provide a secure source of income for their members.
"Whispering Pines is interested in developing tourism opportunities, and this is a great way to get involved," said LeBourdais.
LeBourdais is currently pursuing the feasibility of constructing a bridge to Whispering Pines from the eastern side of the North Thompson River near Heffley Creek. This would drastically reduce travelling time between the reserve and Sun Peaks Resort, putting the reserve on the bus tour loop and effectively opening Whispering Pines to further tourism opportunities.
Members of the Native Youth Movement, a large portion of them members of the Neskonlith Indian Band near Chase, are angry at Sun Peaks $70 million expansion plans, and have been demonstrating at the resort for some time. Arnouse said he's faced some criticism from Neskonlith Band members regarding his involvement with the venture. As a result, the groundbreaking ceremony was kept low-key in an effort to avoid a demonstration. LeBourdais said that although he supports the Native Youth Movement in principle, he in no way condones the demonstrators' actions.
The Little Shuswap Band has committed itself financially to the housing project, becoming an equity partner in that portion, while Whispering Pines is an equity partner in the commercial portion. The commercial portion of the project is expected to be complete in January 2002, and the staff housing in September.
"This project is proof positive that we can work with the local Native community, which we have done for many years," said Darcy Alexander. "To my mind it is a good news story, totally and completely. It shows that we have faith in the Aboriginal community and they have faith in us."
The battle over the expansion of the Sun Peaks ski resort continues with the rebuilding of the Skwelkwek'welt Protection Centre, which is located at the bottom of a ski run on unceded Secwepemc traditional territory.
The centre was dismantled by provincial Ministry of Transportation and Highways workers in August, which prompted a number of protests by the Native Youth Movement, including an infrmation roadblock.
Sun Peaks has hand delivered an order to remove the protection centre (photo above) or action will be taken, though there is no details as to what specific action has been threatened.
Neskonlith Chief Arthur Manuel has written to Masayoshi Okhubo of the Sun Peaks resort saying the resort has no authority to decide where Secwepemc peoples can practice and protect their traditional values. He reiterates that the Secwepemc people "still do not want you to expand Sun Peaks" and suggests that the resort's "high-handed" handling of the situation is making the protesters more resolute in protecting traditional lands.
A second letter was sent to the RCMP regarding racial violence erupting over the Sun Peaks protests. Manuel writes "Over the weekends of September 22 and September 29, 2001, organized gangs of young white people congregated in Chase, British Columbia to intimidate and cause violence towards local Secwepemc and indigenous peoples. He said that "mob rule has taken over the streets," and that the RCMP should take special measures to ensure that "racially motivated incident are seriously and deliberately challenged." He calls upon to police to mete out justice to the same degree as the police did with the Aboriginal protesters, saying the noble concepts of law and order can only succeed if they are "fairly and eqully adminstered to both settler and indigenous youth equally. It is our feeling that this sense of fairness does not exist."