The internal difficulties facing the small but active Burns Lake Band (BLB) – Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation – were brought to a public forum recently during the ‘1000 Drums’ rally in Burns Lake on Aug. 17, 2013.
The rally in opposition to the proposed Enbridge project saw Burns Lake Band Counc. Ron Charlie describe the difficulties he faces as an elected band councillor who stands in vocal opposition to the pipeline proposal.
“I was escorted out of my office by four RCMP officers all because I want transparency,” Charlie said during the rally in reference to events unfolding after an extended peaceful protest by BLB members saw band offices occupied and closed for regular business for two weeks.
An RCMP intervention ended the occupation on April 7, 2013.
Charlie has always been forthright in discussing his situation. That very quality has formed part of the basis of a recent defamation of character lawsuit filed against him and 12 other individuals.
According to a band member speaking through the Respect Project BLB Facebook page who has access to the relevant documents seven band members, two non-band members, and four unidentified individuals are named in a notice of civil claim which was delivered on Aug. 15, 2013.
The suit alleges that Chief Albert Gerow, counc. Dan George and Wesley Sam have all had their reputations damaged by public comments made and recorded in various media by those named in the law suit. Sources for the comments include the Lakes District News, the Prince George Citizen, and the Respect Project – BLB Facebook page.
“They’re saying everything I’ve said is false and that I’m going out of my way to lie,” Charlie said in conversation a few days after the rally. “I’ve never lied about them. I stand behind what I’ve said.”
Charlie has expressed frustration at being denied access to information regarding the detailed specifics of any financial or other arrangements that may or may not have been made with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project (Enbridge), or the Pacific Trails Pipeline project (PTP).
A June 20, 2013 BLB band council resolution (BCR) authorizes Gerow to enter into “confidentiality agreements, letters of agreement, memorandums of understandings on behalf of the BLB to explore economic opportunities.”
The BCR does not bear Charlie’s signature. As reported in the Lakes District News on June 5, 2013, a three person council is without quorum when one of the councillors is absent.
According to an Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) spokesperson Susan Cuthbert, an AANDC superintendent was requested to sit as a non-voting chair so that the remaining elected council members – in this case Gerow and George – could act as voting members.
Ryan Tibbetts, a BLB band member who was introduced as a representative of the BLB elders council during the rally, said that the results of a formal band survey to determine the position of band members on Enbridge Northern Gateway were never made public.
According to an informal survey taken among band members, Tibbetts said at least 90 per cent of band members are opposed to the project.
“Councillor Ron Charlie has repeatedly asked for the information on what deals have been made with Enbridge, PTP, or any pipeline companies,” Tibbetts said during the rally. “For that, they have tried to fire him as councillor.”
Charlie was relieved of two of his paid positions with the band. Prior to Charlie’s dismissal from the two positions, Gerow described the situation with Charlie as resulting from internal administration conflicts, and not from any reluctance on his part to be transparent regarding band activities.
At the time, Gerow said there was no truth to the claim that a secret deal with Enbridge existed.
“We’re maintaining a neutral stance, we’re not speaking in favour or against Enbridge,” Gerow said. “Our desire is to wait for the JRP to complete their review.”
As for the most recent events surrounding the lawsuit, Gerow said that he is unable to make any comment on the civil claim as it is a legal matter.