The Williams Lake Indian Band is getting into the ranching business.
The band is leasing the 150 Mile Ranch in exchange for the province leasing reserve land for the Highway 97 four-lane upgrade from 150 Mile House to Lexington.
“Under the First Nations land management code we are required to obtain exchanged lands of equivalent size or value,” said the band’s economic development officer Kirk Dressler.
Eventually the leases will collapse and the province will own the highway lands and the ranch will be owned by the band.
In order for the land exchange to be completed, the ranch will leave provincial jurisdiction, be added to reserve land, fall under federal jurisdiction and held for the benefit of the band, Dressler said.
“That process is a federal process that is regulated by Aboriginal Affairs. It can be a bureaucratically cumbersome process that takes anywhere from three to 10 or more years.”
Part of the process will require consultation and engagement with local governments and other interest holders.
During that three to 10-year period, the ranch will remain in the Agriculture Land Reserve and be run as an agricultural operation.
“We’re still bound by the restriction of the ALR so people should not expect that any changes will happen dramatically on the property overnight,” Dressler said.
Originally the band tried to purchase the Onward Mission Ranch but there was another purchaser.
The 150 Mile Ranch was listed and is close to the reserve’s boundary, so after a referendum that received a 90 per cent vote in favour from the membership, the band pursed acquiring the ranch.
Agricultural equipment, 50 bred cows and two bulls, already on site were part of the arrangement so the band has hired community member June Harry as ranch manager to run a beef operation.
There are five rental units on the property, as well as a 6,000 square foot ranch home with a pool, the band is hoping to lease out.
Ultimately when the ranch is added to the reserve, the band will have jurisdiction to zone it as it wants, Dressler said.
In the meantime, Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake is interested in using the ranch as a classroom for its Applied Sustainable Ranching program and 120 chickens are anticipated to arrive any day.