Internal troubles within the Burns Lake Band (BLB), Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation, have not been resolved since the April 7, 2013 RCMP action which saw members of the BLB, and guests, removed from the Gathering Place at BLB band offices in Burns Lake. The action ended a two week sit-in occupation of the facility.
According to Ryan Tibbetts, BLB member and spokesperson for the Elders Collective – a group claiming to represent more than 90 per cent of on-reserve band members – the forced removal of band members from the property has deeply divided the community and created an atmosphere of mistrust and fear towards local RCMP.
Tibbetts said he recently filed a formal complaint with the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP (CPC) on behalf of the BLB community. A spokesperson for the commission confirmed that the complaint was received and has entered the normal channels of complaint investigation. Normally, the commission does not publicly comment on specific complaints in order to protect the identity of the person who filed the complaint. In this case, the complainant made his case known, so confidentiality was not an issue.
Tibbetts’ complaint lists four main concerns: that members of the RCMP are being used by band chief and council to intimidate opposing band members; that guns were drawn in a non-violent circumstance on April 7, 2013 during the police action at band offices; that the RCMP failed to investigate the altercation between counc. Dan George and Tibbetts during the protest; and that Burns Lake RCMP detachment St. Sgt. Grant MacDonald involved himself as a negotiator between band council and band members during the occupation without authority to do so.
Part of Tibbetts’ concern is that counc. Ron Charlie was not part of the decision to bring in the RCMP last month.
“Ron Charlie is a council member and they [band council without Charlie] did not have quorum to negotiate anything with the RCMP,” said Tibbetts regarding the move to enlist the aid of the RCMP on April 7.
In a May 15, 2013 statement carrying Charlie’s name as a contact, he is described as having been ostracized from his duties as councilor, and in effect, if not in substance, fired without due process.
“In effect, they have terminated Charlie from his role as councilor; however, they [Chief Albert Gerow and George] have not followed protocol including holding properly called and duly convened meetings,” reads the statement.
After initial public protests began on Feb. 5, 2013, Gerow said that Charlie’s lack of involvement was his own choice, while Charlie has maintained that he has been excluded from band business despite having repeatedly requested information regarding band finances and negotiations with potential industry partners, including Enbridge Northern Gateway.
An April 8, 2013 fax from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) addressed to Gerow indicates that a serious problem regarding BLB business exists as long as only two of three councilors are present for meetings.
Although quorum is the majority of the council – in this case two members – the chief acts as chairperson in a three-member band, and the two other councilors as voting members.
According to the fax, this means that, “Band business can not be conducted unless there are three members at the meeting – the chief as chairperson and the two councilors as voting council members.”
It does not appear that AANDC will provide resolution for the strife that continues to divide the band.
“The Burns Lake Indian band’s governance issues are an internal matter,” said an AANDC spokesperson. “For more information please contact the First Nation.”
St. Sgt. MacDonald said that he was aware of a complaint filed with the CPC against the Burns Lake RCMP detachment regarding the April 7, 2013 action at the band offices.
“To protect the integrity of the investigation I am not at liberty to comment on this matter at this time,” he added.