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 Councillor Dan George and Tibbetts during the protest; and that Burns Lake RCMP detachment Staff 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 councilor 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.
It does not appear that Charlie has been part of regular band business for a very long time, well before the beginning of public protests on Feb. 5, 2013 to draw attention to the concerns of many BLB members.
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.
Previously, Chief Albert Gerow has said that Charlie’s lack of involvement was his own choice. Charlie has previously stated 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.
Charlie was not available for comment regarding Tibbetts’ complaint.
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 3 members at the meeting – the chief as chairperson and the two councilors as voting council members.”
At this time, no comment was available from AANDC or the North District RCMP.