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Chiefs vow to protect Spotted Lake

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Joan Taillon, Raven's Eye Writer, KELOWNA







A decades-old controversy over who should control use of a lake that the Okanagan Nation Alliance considers sacred is heating up again around the town of Osoyoos, about 13 miles north of the United States border.

The property containing Spotted Lake is currently owned by descendants of the late Ernest Smith, who once had the idea of developing a spa there but who was thwarted when Native people and their supporters blocked rezoning of the property.

The bottom line, according to the chiefs of the alliance, is they never ceded the land in any treaty, so the current ownership of mineral-rich Spotted Lake by Smith''s estate is not the last word.

The property has been appraised at $250,000; the alliance has offered $500,000 to purchase it; but Christine Smith is said to be asking $1.2 million, a figure the chiefs and the mayor of Osoyoos said is unreasonable.

Chief Stewart Phillip of the Penticton Indian Band said, "what they're attempting to do is exploit the situation. They know it''s a sacred site and they know we have placed a high value on it for those reasons, and they're just attempting to extort an unreasonable amount of money out of the Okanagan Nation."

The alliance is requesting the federal government step in to purchase the land for a reserve to be shared by all the member bands.

"The federal government has been put on notice as to the urgency of this situation," said Chief Phillip. "I believe the federal government has a great deal of experience with respect to spiritual conflicts. They know spiritual conflicts can be very volatile and very emotional, so I think they realize that there's a potential for this to escalate into a conflict. And I think they''re fully aware . . . that we're not going to allow the proposed developments to take place."

The latest battle started when the Okanagan Nation was alerted that someone had placed an advertisement in the Osoyoos Times calling for trucking contractors to tender bids to haul 10,000 tonnes of