Torn posters on the ground mark the sight of an early morning protest out front of the Burns Lake Band offices on March 25

Torn posters on the ground mark the sight of an early morning protest out front of the Burns Lake Band offices on March 25

Ongoing Burns Lake Band protest

Band offices closed for the week as protesters and council involve lawyers

The Burns Lake Band (BLB) continues to find itself internally divided by a conflict that shows no sign of a short-term resolution. Chief Albert Gerow, recently re-elected for a second two-year term, has been facing an increasingly dissatisfied group of BLB on-reserve band members.

Ron Charlie, elected as a BLB councillor in the last election for the first time, called for the resignation of Gerow and counc. Dan George on Feb. 5, 2013, citing a lack of transparency and a general disregard for on-reserve band member concerns and aspirations. He was supported in person by approximately 20 band members, including former BLB Chief Robert Charlie.

Two more peaceful protests followed, but on March 25, things turned ugly.

Early on that Monday morning, protesters gathered at the BLB offices to stage another protest.

“Last week we decided that enough was enough,” said Ryan Tibbetts, who ran against Gerow in the last election. “The band members decided that they needed to support Ron and they needed to start being heard.”

The protesters put up posters and nailed boards across the BLB office doors. A video captured a physical altercation that morning between Tibbetts and George. The video was posted to the Facebook page ‘Respect Project – BLB’ and later removed. The incident was referred to the RCMP.

Tibbetts spoke for the protesters. He said that counc. Charlie has been denied access to financial documents, that he has been excluded from BLB council deliberations and planning, and he has been threatened because of his vocal opposition Gerow and George.

“In our minds, they [Gerow and George] are not representing us,” said Tibbetts. “Ron is trying to represent the on-reserve band members but he’s totally ignored.”

Gerow does not agree with Tibbetts’ assessment of the situation. He said that counc. Charlie has had many opportunities to engage with band council, but he has not acted upon them.

“Sadly, he [counc. Charlie] hasn’t shown any interest in working with us,” said Gerow.

Gerow repeated what he said after the initial demand for his resignation last month: the Burns Lake Band conducts weekly staff and council meetings, holds regular public band meetings, and discloses BLB project planning and financial dealings.

As reported by the Lakes District News on Feb. 13, 2013, the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) funding service officer for BLB reported that no financial or program irregularities had been found during Gerow’s previous term as band chief.

According to Gerow, counc. Charlie has access to financial records as part of his elected office.

“When we hold our monthly financial meetings, our financial officer gives financial reports,” said Gerow.

For Gerow, if counc. Charlie is unaware of what council is doing, it is because he excludes himself from council meetings. Gerow referred to Charlie’s absence from BLB offices to explain the threat that Tibbetts was referring to. Gerow said that the threat concerned Charlie’s employment with the band on two separate portfolios.

Tibbetts said the matter has been referred to a special investigator with AANDC. Comment from AANDC was unavailable at press time.

If previous comments from AANDC are any indication, the existence of a petition calling for the removal of Gerow and George cannot in itself serve as grounds for a new election.

In 2010, a protest and petition were organized calling for the resignation of BLB council, including Gerow and George. At the time, an AANDC spokesperson said that an elected council cannot be removed by a petition.

Both sides are now represented by lawyers. Despite the intransigence of the protester’s position, Gerow remains hopeful that a peaceful resolution may be found.

Burns Lake Band offices were closed for the remainder of the week.