Disgruntled Burns Lake Band members protect condemned home

A home on Burns Lake Band's reserve was due to be torn down last Friday, however a number of band members did not agree with the decision.

Burns Lake Band members gathered outside a Tibbetts Crescent home on the Burns Lake Band reserve last week. Band council said the home was to be demolished due to structural issues and mould.

Burns Lake Band members gathered outside a Tibbetts Crescent home on the Burns Lake Band reserve last week. Band council said the home was to be demolished due to structural issues and mould.

A home on Tibbetts Crescent on Burns Lake Band’s reserve was due to be torn down last Friday.

According to Burns Lake Band member, Adam Tibbetts, Chief Albert Gerow, Coun. Dan George and Coun. Wesley Sam passed a band council resolution to tear down the house, despite knowing that he was living there.

Beverly Tibbetts, who had also previously lived in the home with the late Kelly Dennis said she is the rightful owner of the home and argues that the band does not have the right to make the decision to tear it down.

Beverly said she has not lived in the home since Dennis passed away late last year.

According to Burns Lake Band member, Sherry Tibbetts, when someone passes away it is customary not to remove or touch any of their belongings for one year.

John Charlie agreed, saying that after a year has passed the personal effects of the deceased are then burnt. “That’s our tradition, that’s how we deal with it,” he said.

Cecelia Sam, Ted Lowley, Rodney Joseph, Destiny Tom, Ann Tibbetts, Pauline Abraham, Frank Michell, Ruth Tibbetts and Ryan Tibbetts were also gathered in front of the Tibbetts Crescent home last Friday in support of Beverly and Adam.

According to Adam, the order was given by Burns Lake Band council to tear the home down at 1 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2011.

With the help of friends and family, Adam removed his belongings from the home, however he said to Lakes District News that he had nowhere else to go.

“I was forced to move my things by the RCMP,” he said.

Adam said he had been living in the home since November 2011 and that the home was also used by others who needed a place to stay from time to time.

Ryan Tibbetts ex-Burns Land Band counsellor said the band had the electricity supply to the home cut off two weeks ago, however Adam had run an extension cord from the next door neighbour’s home to provide a source of electricity.

He said he had been keeping the house warm by using the wood stove and was also cooked on the wood stove due to a lack of power.

“I have been living on soup,” he said.

Beverly said she was aware that Adam and a number of other people had been living in the home and she said she didn’t mind, but she said she didn’t agree with any partying at the home.

While Adam admits to partying now and then he said he doesn’t feel it is an issue. He said it is definitely not a reason for chief and council to make the decision to tear the home down. “There has been some drinking, but we were grieving over the loss of Kelly, that’s how we deal with it.”

Adam said, “A true chief would look after his people. The councillors are involved in this too … it’s crazy. People can die out there in the cold. It’s the middle of winter,” Adam said, adding that he now plans to run for chief next election. “I will be the youngest chief in B.C. and I will put my family of band members first,” the 29 year old said.

According to Ryan, band council had said there was issues with the structure of the home and with mould, but he said this is not the case.

He said that although band council has a quorum of three, any resolutions are not legal unless band members sign them. Ryan said he estimates that 80 to 90 per cent of band members don’t support the chef and council.

“We hear chief and council are going to China this year — why are they going and how is this being funded?” asked Ryan.

Beverly said, “All I wanted is to get the house boarded up, I don’t want it torn down.”

As the clock drew closer to 1 p.m. – the time the house was scheduled to be torn down – band members also removed some of the personal effects of the late Kelly Dennis and threw them into a bonfire.

“This is something that has been practiced for over 100 years. We don’t disturb belongings of the one that passed. But now I will leave this in the creators hands and to Karma … we have been forced to do this,” Sherry said.

Cecelia Sam said, “There has been zero communication and the chief and council are very heavy handed. The only time we hear from the chief is in the newspaper. Band members are afraid to make comments for fear of the consequences.”

Ann Tibbetts, Adam’s auntie said, “But we are making the comments now. We have been oppressed, put down and had our rights taken away from us. We have no voice. The house was Bev’s – she paid for it with her own money, her house is not a band owned home.”

Beverly said, “Burns Lake Band workers Larry Petreau and Judy French are banned from setting foot on the reserve — they are white and are not ruling me.” Chief Gerow said, “Any issues like this are a human resources issue and will be dealt with internally. From time to time there are conflicts that arise between staff and band members. This issue stems from disgruntled band members and the ban [on workers Larry Petreau and Judy French] is not something that chief and council have put in place.”

Just after 1 p.m., Burns Lake RCMP detachment members Cpl. Justin Frederick and Cpl. David Wolchuk arrived. Cpl. Frederick said the RCMP had discussed the issue with chief and council who had agreed to leave the home standing, but board it up — providing there is no occupants.

“We don’t want any conflict, we are here to help,” said Cpl. Wolchuk.

Councillor Wesley Sam later said to Lakes District News that the home in question was to be torn down because it was condemned due to extensive mould in the crawl spaces of the home.

He said the house was too far gone for remediation.

“The house has been condemned for over a year and we gave the occupants a month notice …. there is not supposed to be anyone living in there for it to be an issue,” he said, adding that all homes on the Burns Lake Band reserve are owned by the Burns Lake Band and funded by the Department of Indian Affairs Canada. “They [occupants] have to take care of where they are going to live themselves. Chief and council are liable if anyone gets sick living in a house that should be condemned. This home is a band owned home and it was condemned 100 per cent due to health and safety issues.”

As for the original plan to tear down the home, he said he has not heard of the custom to not disturb the personal effects of the deceased for one year after their death. Councillor Sam said he did not want to make any comment about the allegations of a band funded trip to China, however Chief Gerow confirmed that there has been discussion about a trip to China, but said that nothing has been decided yet. “There is a possibility of a trip to China, but nothing is confirmed. If the trip goes ahead, I would be going to represent Burns Lake Native Development Corporation, as I am the president of the corporation. We would be looking at developing an opportunity for the Burns Lake Specialty Woods mill site on Moe Road.”

Chief Gerow said, “I can confirm that a band council resolution was passed to remove the house and that this was purely for health and safety reasons. The house in question was inspected, documented and condemned as unsuitable for inhabitants some time ago. The roof is rotten and soggy, the electrical systems are old and are a risk failure, floors, crawl spaces are rotting. To repair everything would cost $130,000 dollars.”

He said the decision to remove the house was reinforced after a conversation with the RCMP who said that Burns Lake Band could be held liable if something happened.

“When the house was originally condemned a new house was built for the owner in 2009. In December 2011, the owner agreed that it should be torn down and preferred no new development on the lot. So demolishing the house was planned for after Christmas and in New Year. The [current] occupant who had just started squatting in the house, was told that this was going to be done and house demolished in January. Previous to this he was staying at his grandmother’s house and if needed, other arrangements were made for him to stay in another residence. He did at one time have his own house, which unfortunately had over $70,000 dollars damage done to it and made it unlivable. Which was why he was living at his grandmother’s.”