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Sun Peaks: Grandmothers arrested in dispute

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Matthew R. Stewart, Raven's Eye Writer, Kamloops







Page 5

In the continuing struggle to assert their Aboriginal rights upon traditional Neskonlith lands, two Secwepemc Elders, both grandmothers, one 73 years old and one 75 years old, plus three Secwepemc women and one youth, were arrested Dec. 28, 2001, just outside of Kamloops, B.C. They were arrested for setting up a road block on the approach to Sun Peaks Ski Resort. A sixth protestor was arrested later.

The blockade followed the December eviction from, and destruction of, an encampment-called the Skwelkwekwelt Protection Centre-and the demolition of a Secwepemc family home and two sweat lodges at MacGillvray Lake, within the area licensed by the province to the Sun Peaks Resort for recreational use.

The ski resort has been the target of Aboriginal demonstrations for months. Protesters maintain that the land Sun Peaks occupies has been part of their traditional territory for thousands of years and they object to the resort's planned $70-million expansion. The land is leased to Sun Peaks Resort as a controlled recreation area, a designation which gives resort officials "exclusive" control of the area through the ski season. A lawyer for the ski resort had argued that an Aboriginal camp near a newly created ski run was a hazard to skiers.

Shortly after the arrests, a resort spokesperson said of the Neskonlith Indian Band that "the protest is nearly done." Sun Peaks'Chris Rogers added, "We think it is over. There is really only a handful of people protesting and we don't think they really have the support of their community anymore."

Rogers was referring to a statement, reported in the Dec. 30 edition of the Vancouver Province newspaper, made by Kamloops Indian Band Chief Bonnie Leonard, who publicly denounced the confrontational tactics of the protestors.

Later in the day, Sun Peaks' Rogers said, "We have the best snow we've ever had! People are skiing and having a great day!" And while they were busy having fun on the slopes, the grandmothers and other protestors were being booked into jail.

B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant, who is also Minister Responsible for Treaty Negotiations, continues to lock out Neskonlith Chief Art Manuel from any discussion or negotiation on the matter, saying in a December statement to Raven's Eye, "I don't think confrontation is the framework within which we can hold discussions on the issue."

The six protestors appeared in provincial court on Jan. 16 to set a trial date. And later the same week, the Neskonlith Band filed a Statement of Defense covering the existing charges against the protestors. Band lawyer Louise Mandell was also instructed by the band council to file a counter-suit against Sun Peaks, the attorney general and the RCMP for what the band considers harassment the protestors have been subjected to. The band is compiling a folder of letters and e-mails from around the world, and says it will be releasing a statement about the international and influential endorsements they are receiving for their struggle.

The Secwepemc people, according to Chief Manuel, are still resisting the destruction of their traditional territory for the expansion of the Sun Peaks ski resort.