Published in Indian Country Today Media Network | July 21, 2012 | Circulation: 300,000 unique monthly visitors / 22,500 (magazine)
Sliammon First Nation members in British Columbia have voted, with 57.5 percent in favor, to accept a treaty settlement awarding it 20,510 acres of land and $30 million over a decade.
The July 10 vote was fraught with controversy, however, as some band members boycotted the vote as illegitimate. With only 318 of the nation’s 615 members voting yes, the treaty was effectively ratified by a 10-vote margin, leading critics to promise a legal challenge.
A dozen community members had blocked the first treaty vote with trucks on June 16, warning that the proposed final agreement extinguishes for all time the nation’s rights and title to their land and accusing the election process of corruption, irregular voter enrollment and “wining and dining” residents with dinner-boat cruises to vote yes.
The vote was rescheduled to July 10, and protesters sought an injunction to halt it, but the vote went ahead anyway. The boycotters reported that dozens of tactical police arrived to enforce the election.
“Why are we negotiating what is already ours?” asked blockade spokesperson Doreen Point. “It was desperation that brought us to this blockade because we knew we’d never get [a fair vote]. I can’t allow them to sell our country, our traditional lands. I want it there for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren down the line … which they’ll never have with [this] treaty.”
Point alleged that the band’s Chief Clint Williams and other treaty proponents had bribed residents with free dinner cruises selling alcohol, enrolled non-Sliammon voters, and spent millions for their side.
Williams denied opponents’ allegations of bribery or inducement to vote yes, telling ICTMN that “democracy … got trampled on” with the blockade.
“I was pretty frustrated,” he said. “People were being told the areas we would be receiving as treaty settlement are all barren, stripped of resources and totally worthless. The lands actually have beautiful second-growth forests, and much of them are waterfront. The boat tours … were to show people the land. There’s a false accusation there—there was dinner provided but no alcohol.”
Williams told ICTMN the treaty would provide economic opportunities in a financially struggling region, and that the treaty would not infringe on Sliammon rights.
“The unemployment rate in Sliammon is fairly high,” he said. “We have some great land that could be developed and could open up some doors for the Sliammon nation…. All the rights that we have today are listed in [the treaty].”
Mary Polak, B.C. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, called the bribery allegations “outrageous” and “wild.”
“They are the form of intimidation that this group tries to use,” she told ICTMN. “They’re very ill-informed. This is not a split in the community—this is one small group who unfortunately have derailed a process for the entire community… I heard one of the protestors say that they’ll lose everything. The fact is, they gain their control over their future. It doesn’t extinguish title—it takes title into a whole new area.”