Past councillor Ryan Tibbetts said to Lakes District News that band elders and on reserve members have now initiated the removal of Chief Albert Gerow, Coun. Wesley Sam and Coun. Dan George.
A total of 25 Burns Lake Band on reserve members signed a petition which was presented to Chief Gerow and councillor Dan George on Feb. 14 stating that the original band members do not recognize or acknowledge the present chief and council.
“We don’t know where Wes Sam is, he is missing in action,” said Tibbetts.
The petition states, “[The present chief and council’s] actions and decisions seriously undermine the health and safety of our on reserve members. We are requesting that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada take the necessary steps to reject the recent band elections of Oct. 22, 2010 for the Burns Lake Band.
The elections of Oct. 22. 2010 are being appealed to the federal government. Effective immediately the current chief and council are relieved of all their duties and responsibilities.
The Burns Lake Band members on reserve unanimously agree to temporarily appoint Ryan Tibbetts and Cecelia Sam to assume responsibility for all band administration and business until a re-election is called.”
Tibbetts said that 83 per cent of on reserve members signed the petition and that those who didn’t sign the petition chose not to for fear of repercussions or were not capable of signing because of medical issues.
Tibbetts went on to say that the previous band election should not be recognized due to corrupt practices.
“When I say corrupt practices I mean bribery. This had an impact on election results,” Tibbetts said.
He went on to say that band members have now come forward saying they were promised certain things for their vote.
“You can’t make stupid promises to get votes,” said past band Chief Robert Charlie said. “This is all about human rights,” he added.
“We have been oppressed by federal legislation and now we are being oppressed by our own people,” he added.
Tibbetts said the group has filed with the federal government objecting to the election results but the process is moving too slowly so they have decided to take things into their own hands and occupy the band office until a legal decision is made.
“Both Chief Gerow and Coun. George said they would not recognize our petition as valid and [Chief Gerow] through it in the garbage,” Tibbetts said.
Tibbetts explained that 60 per cent of the bands membership live off reserve and that these members are not original Burns Lake Band members.
“Half of them don’t have a clue where they are from. The other half are either related to the Gerow’s or the George’s,” he said.
He went on to say that they have been added as band members over time because of Bill C35 [the DNA Identification Act]
Charlie said, ” These people don’t offer their hand to help the Burns Lake Band when it is needed, they just put pen to paper to vote. This is not about me, this is about the health and well being of the elders. It is being threatened so I have to step up.”
Charlie said he is angered by the actions of Chief Gerow when the elders presented him with the petition.
“He [Gerow] said when he was elected that he was going to be a respectful chief, but when he was presented with the petition he threw it in the garbage in front of the elders, that is not being a respectful chief. We are human beings, not garbage. If this petition does not work we will go independent from the band and work from our houses,” Charlie said.
Burns Lake Band elder Peter John said he was very concerned about essential services being cut since the new chief and council have been elected.
“We have lost our Little Angels day care centre and our Carrier Sekani Family Services. I don’t know what is going to happen to the children now, I am not very happy with it,” he said.
Tibbetts said that the reason behind the cuts was a budget deficit.
“We liked the day care. We called it Little Angels because it was for our little angels, that’s what we are all about. We [past chief and council] kept the Little Angels day care running despite any losses, it’s all about the children. Now you come into the band office and you don’t see any children or any band members, the place is empty except for the five people working here,” Charlie said.
For now the band members plan to occupy the Burns Lake Band’s Gathering Place until an official decision is made. They have informed Indian and Northern Affairs, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, the electoral officer and all local bands of their actions.
“In seven years the local on this building were never changed once, since the new chief has been here the locks on the building have been changed twice. Crazy stuff is happening, it is an administration of distrust,” Charlie added.
Coun. George was present at the band office on Feb. 14 and he said to Lakes District News that the petition to remove chief and council was not recognized as valid.
“It is not a legal document,” he said.
“We will let Indian and Northern Affairs decide what’s going on. All I can see is that we have a disgruntled ex-chief and council trying to get back in office.”
He added that he doesn’t see how working at Lake Babine Nation is a conflict of interest.
“I work three days there and two here [Burns Lake Band office], I work for the housing department as a building inspector – it is definitely not a conflict of interest he added.”
Chief Albert Gerow and Coun. Wes Sam were unavailable for comment at press time.