Ski resorts threatened by unresolved native land claims 

The tale of two ski resorts, roadblocks, protests and camouflage battle fatigues intertwines with B.C.’s sad history of treaty negotiations

Two B.C. ski resorts have been hogging the headlines in Vancouver’s daily newspapers and the airwaves of the province’s suppertime newscasts lately despite the fact that the stories have nothing to do with skiing.

Mounties bust blockade. Land claims showdown looming at ski resort. Native activists setting up protest camps. Blockade greets proposed ski resort. Natives occupy resort to protest land use.

The overblown media coverage is enough to make the average person think that the province is under siege. But that’s what both sides want in this unfortunate story of politics and perception.

The saga’s roots can be traced back to events that took place more than a decade ago.

In the summer of 1990, 15 separate native roadblocks – including ones in Agassiz, Fountain, North Vancouver, Oliver, Pavilion, Pemberton and Vernon – were strung up across the province’s roadways.

That was the same summer a dispute over a golf course near Oka, Que., got a little out of hand and the Canadian military came for a visit.

In the summer of 1995, roadblocks were strung up on the Douglas Lake Road near Merritt and the Adams Lake Road near Chase.

That was the same summer a misunderstanding over a piece of ranching land on Gustafsen Lake near 100 Mile House got a little out of hand and the RCMP were called in.

Last summer, natives tussled with federal department of fisheries officers on the Fraser River near Chilliwack and on the Atlantic Ocean near Burnt Church, N.B.

But perhaps the most thought-provoking dispute was an ongoing roadblock near Penticton that lasted through the late 1980s and into the early ’90s.

The Penticton Indian Band halted expansion at Apex Mountain by blockading the ski hill’s main access road, which ran through the band’s reserve. The ensuing media coverage drove off potential international investors until the ski area went bankrupt.

Apex Mountain Resort was eventually bailed out by the provincial government and is now locally owned.

Now, in the summer of 2001, First Nation peoples have set up roadblocks and protest camps at Melvin Creek – site of the proposed Cayoosh ski resort – on the Duffey Lake Road and at Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops.

At Melvin Creek, the St’at’imc First Nation – made up of 11 bands from the Lillooet-Pemberton area – is opposed to the controversial $500-million Cayoosh resort development for a variety of reasons, including environmental and economic concerns.

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