A group of Secwépemc people has voted to separate from the Neskonlith Indian Band.
Switzmalph members of IR (Indian Reserve)#3 near Salmon Arm issued a press release stating they have voted to legally separate from the band, whose head office is in Chase, 70 kilometres away.
A number of issues were cited, some revolving around what is described as a lack of action from the chief and council in addressing concerns.
“Of primary concern, is the lack of a pandemic plan which resulted in the death of an elder…,” the press release stated. During the pandemic, Switzmalph band members either had COVID-19 or were isolating in their homes under often harsh conditions, it said. Calls to declare a state of emergency were unanswered.
The release also referred to a lack of accountability regarding provincial impact benefit agreements that provided money to the band, as well a lack of communication in affairs related to the Switzmalph community, including land development and Highway 1 expansion negotiations. It said financial inaccuracies and housing have not been addressed by chief and council with appeals going back to 2015.
The press release also stated that no inclusive band meetings have been held for several years and major issues are being dealt with without transparency.
It said that although Chief Judy Wilson gave a general apology, a statement that the band will work on making things better and a request for a healing ceremony, she failed to address Switzmalph concerns.
The Neskonlith band is made of about 600 members, about one-third on reserve and two-thirds off.
Regarding the Switzmalph population, spokesperson Leona Lampreau said there are about 100 Switzmalph voting members, with the on- and off-reserve numbers about the same proportion as the whole band. She said 32 Switzmalph members, most from on-reserve, voted on separating, all of them in favour.
In a follow-up interview, Lampreau said other bands are smaller than Switzmalph and noted that Little Shuswap Lake Band is also about 100-strong. She added that Switzmalph is in a prime location outside of an urban centre.
She said the chief and council are only a part of the problem and the heart of it is the oppressive structure put in place by the federal government decades ago. She said there are just six members of council representing 600 people when, in the past, governance was based on familial or household representation, with each family, no matter how large or small, having a vote on decisions.
“We are our own village… We want to reconcile the past,” she said.
Lampreau said Switzmalph members involved thought the Elders might not want them to proceed because of all the pain and strife ongoing once the deaths of children at the Kamloops Residential School were confirmed. On the contrary, she said, they were told this is a good time to rectify the past. She said the youth are also wanting change.
The release stated that next steps will include educating the off-reserve and Chase members about Switzmalph community issues and working with Indigenous Services Canada to enter the five-step process of separation.
Lampreau said Indian Affairs has said that under separation a band can’t ask for more land and the change must be cost-neutral. She said she doesn’t expect anything to happen in the next year as they must await a response from Indian Affairs and the chief and council.
Asked for comment on the plan to separate, Chief Wilson said she had not yet seen the press release, but she thought it was important that a meeting be held and all band members understand the issues.
She said there would be a lot to research and to work out, such as land holdings as some band members have certificates of possession. She said Indian Affairs and the Government of Canada restricts a lot that can be done.
She also countered that extensive consultation was done with band members on the highway work, and a large investment was made in a daycare in Salmon Arm.
She said although there is just one person currently representing Switzmalph/Salmon Arm on the band council, there is no limit on that number and it was two people for several terms. She said Elder Dr. Mary Thomas came to council before Wilson became chief, saying she wanted to make sure Switzmalph had a representative, which is why the election code was set up as it is.
Wilson said there are a lot of questions to talk about regarding the separation process and she would like everyone to be fully informed.
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