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Protesters rally for Squamish Nation council to step down
Yesterday morning, members of the Squamish Nation gathered at their council office demanding the chief’s and council’s resignation.
Armed with a petition signed by 550 members, the rally called for a temporary council to take over governance until an election can be held.
“Members are afraid [chief and council] are negotiating self-government,” Squamish activist Jo-Ann Nahenee said.
Chief and council already have the power to decide who can live on reserve and who can’t, she said. Placing further control, such as health insurance, in their hands would weaken members’ rights, she added.
Members are kept in the dark when it comes to council’s business, including the nation’s actions with its land, she said. The Squamish community wants transparent and accountable politicians, Nahenee added.
“There is a sense of urgency and fear among members because they don’t know where they stand,” she said.
Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob speculates the unrest is related to a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling regarding the Capilano R.V. Park. Court documents state the nation filed a lawsuit against the Baker family for $500,000 in unpaid rent and asked the court to declare the land theirs. In April, the nation won the suit.
The Bakers are members of the Squamish Nation and many people are siding with them, Jacob said.
Last week, he added, council had a presentation from the First Nations Health Council. Its mission is to implement the Tripartite First Nations Health Plan and support First Nations to determine and achieve their own health outcomes.
Such a move is a big decision and not one council would take lightly, Jacob said, adding health care is a cornerstone of a community. Currently, the nation subsidizes some health fees not covered by the federal government — such as dental costs and eye care, he said.
“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Jacob said, noting it would have to go to the community before moving forward.
As for the nation’s land, any change in land designation goes to a designation vote, in which the nation’s voting-age members take part, Jacob said. Only if the vote wins with 50 per cent support plus one will the designation go through.
The nation held such a vote with development plans to build two towers on 8.6 acres of the band’s traditional land at the south end of the Burrard Bridge, adjacent to the Molson Brewery. The vote garnered an 80 per cent approval rating.
“There is no government in this country that can boast this kind of support,” Jacob said.
Such development is needed to support the nation, he said. The nation’s population is one of the fastest growing demographics in the country. Its membership of 3,700 people is expected to double within the next 30 years. Sixty per cent of its current community is under the age of 25, while 50 per cent is under the age of 19.
On the Burrard land, the nation is proposing to construct a 36- and possibly 41-storey tower. Cost for the construction of the first building would be covered by a development company and the nation will sell profits, Jacob said.
Income from the first rental-unit tower will pay for the second one, which will then be 100 per cent owned by the band, Jacob said. This development will produce long-term sustainable revenue for the next generation, he said.
As for the rally’s demands, council was duly elected by its members, Jacob said. Chief and council will remain in their positions until the next election in December of 2013.
“We have a legal duty to ensure the interests of our collective membership,” he said.