While the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has yet to weigh in on a B.C. Supreme Court decision that established the Douglas Trail Road (formerly Highline Road) as a public highway, local First Nations issued a release to reaffirm their land claims along the 24km road that connects D'Arcy to Seton Portage.
In a joint statement of the St'at'imc communities of N'Quatqua and Tsal'alh (Seton Lake), the First Nations said that "the Province (sic) has been reluctant to fully engage in meaningful dialogue" over land tenure and rights of way through First Nations' land.
Chief Garry John of the Tsal'alh said there were no plans at this point to close the road in any way, but they did put up a sign in Feburary to inform people that they were driving through St'at'imc territory, and another sign was put in place at the D'Arcy end as well.
While members of both First Nations do use the road — it was used a few years ago to evacuate the Seton Portage area due to a wildfire — John said there's not that much interest in improving the road to provincial standards.
"The road condition, the way it is, really limits who comes into the valley and when they come into the valley, and we like that aspect of it," he said. "We get a lot of weekend warriors out here and if (the road) was fixed up we would get a lot more haywires coming into the valley. And we're concerned about the real estate speculation that would happen if the road was declared a public road because I imagine every one of the fee simple landowners out there is hoping they can jack up the price of real estate after the court decision came down."
In their joint statement, First Nations made the following points:
• Permission to use the purported rights of way that traverse the reserve land is at the discretion of the communities.
• The service roads on Tasl'alh and N'Quatqua reserve lands were not part of the recent Highline Road litigation and have not been declared public roads. As they are reserve roads the public has no general right to use them and will be advised they are in trespass.
• In particular, we will be erecting gates and signage on our respective reserve lands that notify all users of the road, and the general public, of these facts.
• The Ministry of Transportation is encouraged to acknowledge that many road tenures within the Statimc territory remain unresolved and that until such time as a commitment has been made by the Province (sic) to fully resolve these, all untenured road rights-of-way may be closed.
"As our ancestors stated in May 1811, we still own the territory," said John. "It's sad that we're dealing with a system where the province is slowly trying to erode that as much as possible."
While the First Nations reserves only overlap the road at both ends, John said both First Nations have current and historical interests on the lands that exist between their communities.
There has been no ministry response yet to the statement, but John said they did learn that the RCMP asked tribal police whether there would be a roadblock in the area.
"That's the first thing they asked, sadly, is there going to be a road block," said John. "It's sad that people's mindsets are that the first thing we're going to do is shut down the road, when that's not the case."
The Douglas Trail Road was declared a public road by a B.C. Supreme Court justice on Feb. 7 after a resident along the road filed a lawsuit to resolve ownership over the road after decades of controversy. Based on the use of the road, as well as Ministry of Transportation funding for maintenance, the judge ruled that the road is public and should be maintained by the province, rather than a resource road maintained by the communities and industry in the area.
John said First Nations submissions during the court case were not considered in the ruling, despite the fact that the road passes through two reserves.