PIB members vote in favour of fish hatchery project in referendum

The Penticton Indian Band has shown strong support for building a new fish hatchery on band lands, passing a referendum that will allow the long-awaited project to proceed.

“It was very overwhelmingly supported,” said Chief Jonathan Kruger, adding that the May referendum was the second and final one for the project, which is a joint endeavour between the Okanagan Nation Alliance, power utilities in Washington State and the PIB.

“We’re hoping that the shovels will go in the ground right away. The negotiations have been ongoing,” said Kruger. “All of that is done, the environmental assessments, the water testing, the lease arrangements, everything. We were just waiting for this INAC referendum process and now we have completed it.”

Last year’s spawning run saw a record number of salmon returning to the Okanagan River system, a tribute to the work the ONA has already been doing in conjunction with other stakeholders. Kruger said the new hatchery will improve on that and, in turn, benefit the people.

“I think this is a success story for the good of all. We’ve worked very hard on bringing salmon back to our community, to the Okanagan Nation,” he said. “It’s going to be good for the salmon, it’s going to be good for the land and it’s going to be good for all the people.”

Seeing the salmon population beginning to return to healthy levels brings with it a huge sense of pride for the Okanagan people, according to Kruger.

“Not only that, it is going to bring back health into our communities. Salmon is so good for the human body and the human mind,” he said. “I was down there last year fishing and seeing the young kids out there in the river and families camping together and canning together. It brings back those times how we were a long time ago.”

The annual release of salmon fry, planned for late May, had to be cancelled this year with the river channel running high from the spring freshet. There was a small ceremony, Kruger said, but concerns about the safety of the many school children that attend the public event forced them to reconsider.

Beside getting the go ahead for the fish hatchery lease, Kruger said the referendum process was a excellent exercise for the community, dovetailing well with the style of government practiced by the PIB community.

“That’s how we operate, we operate on consensus through our community,” said Kruger, who admitted the process, managed through Indian and Northern Affairs, was slower than they would have liked.

“It took a bit longer than we anticipated, maybe because of the elections, I don’t know,” said Kruger. “But regardless, the process is done and it was a great learning experience for our community.”

Kruger said the band was so pleased with the referendum process, they are planning to make more use of it.

“We are going to be having many more in the near future … we are looking at a land management referendum process as well in the very near future,” he said. “We have already had meetings with our community about that so we can speed things up, because we are looking at future growth. We are looking for more success stories like the fish hatchery.”

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