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School District 60 struggling to renew lease for Cameron Lake camp

The long-term future of the Cameron Lake Outdoor Education Centre is unclear as the popular recreation spot has been included in land negotiations with a nearby First Nation.
The hall at Cameron Lake.

The long-term future of the Cameron Lake Outdoor Education Centre is unclear as the popular recreation spot has been included in land negotiations with a nearby First Nation.

School District 60 officials say they've been trying to renew the lease for the camp with the province since January 2018, without much response, and only recently learned of the land negotiations. The West Moberly First Nation has included the lake, including the district's leased site, in its requested compensation as part of ongoing Treaty Land Entitlement negotiations with the federal and provincial governments.

"We've been working to get our lease renewed," said board chair Ida Campbell at the March 11 board of education meeting. "We're still proceeding to work in anyway that we can to try to reserve this land."

The school district's 30-year lease of the Crown land expired in December 2018, and officials say the district has invested considerable public and private money to build up the camp and its infrastructure over the decades.

The 18-hectare site has grown from an old rural school house with two retired portables for dormitories, into a log cabin lodge with modern dormitories for up to 48 people. The site has some 40 kilometres of trails and interpretative stations open for student and public use.

In a Feb. 15 letter sent to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, the district notes the camp has been used by thousands of students since it was established, with "considerable community corporate and district support."

The district paid $1 for its 30-year lease, and its preference is to renew the lease directly with the province, said Brenda Hooker, secretary-treasurer. 

"At this point, we haven't had confirmation around that one way or the other, whether it will continue to be included in the treaty land entitlement proposed settlement, or whether we'll perhaps be able to retain our current lease with the province," Hooker said.

Officials at West Moberly were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

The provincial and federal governments are negotiating treaty land entitlement settlements with area First Nations as part of an outstanding land debt still owed from the signing of Treaty 8.

Meanwhile, the school district is reaching out to local governments for support in getting the lease renewed sooner rather than later. On Monday, Fort St. John city councillors voted to write a letter of support for the school district.

The lease is continuing on a month-to-month basis, and the centre will remain open while the treaty land entitlement negotiations continue.

On Tuesday, the school district issued a media release saying it recognized the importance of reconciliation between the province and First Nations, and said it is open to working with West Moberly to secure the camp's future.

"The district would also like to find a way to recognize the district's investment in this site and ensure continued access for all the district's students," the release stated.

"SD 60's Outdoor Education program provides a means to teach students to enjoy, appreciate, and respect the land on which it resides. Hopefully this matter can be resolved in a manner that will allow this teaching to continue for many years to come."

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