A 64-year-old woman who has lived on Westbank First Nation land for the last 25 years will have to leave her home because her husband died and she is not a band member.
Bonnie Alice Watts, a member of the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation in Ontario, married a member of the WFN, Michael Julian Watts, in 1998.
They have three adopted children, all WFN band members, and have lived on WFN land since 1995, according to court documents.
In 2016, the pair applied and were accepted to participate in a WFN home ownership program, and spend $20,000 renovating a property before obtaining a residential lease agreement with an option to purchase along with the approval that they could occupy the house, according to the documents.
Watts said the home is important to her because she provided input into the design and construction of the renovations, the property is located within the traditional lands of her husband and she has a strong connection to the WFN community.
After her husband’s death in April 2018, she continued to live on the property and paid rent to the WFN in accordance with the lease agreement.
In June she was informed the lease option could not be transferred because the property was WFN community property and was delivered a formal Notice to End Tenancy in November 2018, said court documents.
Watts tried to get an injunction but B.C. Supreme Court Judge Dennis Hori ruled with the WFN.
WFN law states that housing must go to band members, and the option to purchase conditions were not yet fulfilled.
She argued that she has limited means and nowhere else to go if she is evicted.
She has lived in the neighbourhood for 15 years and wished to pass the property down to her children.
The judge stated in his decision: “There is no evidence that Mrs. Watts could not continue to reside on the traditional territory of her deceased husband. There is no evidence that she could not maintain her connections to the WFN community or that she could not continue to live in the same neighbourhood.
“In fact, the evidence from the WFN is that there are market value rental properties available on WFN lands and that there are 10,000 non-members currently residing on WFN properties.”
Watts has 30 days to vacate the property.
The WFN has issued this statement in response: “This is an unfortunate situation. WFN feels for and has exercised compassion for those involved. While we cannot comment on personal details of the situation, WFN’s laws were followed in this case, supported by a B.C. Supreme Court ruling. WFN encourages all those who are interested to fully review ruling, which is a public document.”