Whack! The judge’s gavel came down, and the province of B.C. lost any undisputed authority over the West Kootenays -- essentially, the whole south-flowing Columbia River basin.
The headwaters of the Columbia River flow north, through the East Kootenays. Then, at what used to be called the “Big Bend,” the Columbia turns south. It fills a series of lakes behind hydroelectric dams, runs past Revelstoke through the Arrow Lakes, past the Cominco smelter at Trail, and into the U.S.
Along the way, the Columbia picks up several large tributaries. The Slocan River, flowing down from one of the loveliest lakes in B.C., joins the Columbia at Castlegar. So does the Kootenay River, almost as big as the Columbia itself, with its own series of hydro dams that created West Kootenay Power, now known as Fortis.
Last Monday, Judge Lisa Mrozinsky ruled that a supposedly extinct First Nation, the Sinixt, still exists. And by implication, they can claim aboriginal rights to most of the West Kootenays -- roughly, from Trail in the west, to Creston in the east, to Revelstoke in the north. A huge territory – and hugely important for B.C.’s resources, industries, and tourism.