[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]
KELOWNA, B.C. (CP) - One of Canada's wealthiest First Nations signed a self-government agreement with the federal government Wednesday but not everyone is happy.
If Westbank band members ratify the agreement-in-principle, the band will gain broad powers similar to a municipality to enact bylaws in areas such as taxation, rent increases, business licences, agriculture, public works, land management and law enforcement.
Some non-aboriginal residents, even some band members, aren't happy about the power shift. The band now needs approval from the Indian and Northern Affairs to make such changes.
The Westbank reserve sits on prime real estate beside Kelowna in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, a tourism and retirement mecca known for its fruit and wine industries. Though it has only 300 members, the band is landlord to some 7,000 non-native residents who lease property on the reserve. The situation has led to friction. A tenant at a trailer park on the reserve was evicted for challenging an illegal interest fee in a rental contract. In another case, residents of a home development hit by two rent hikes in a year found they had no recourse except appeals to Indian Affairs.
The self-government agreement could make those kinds of problems easier to solve, said Ray Manzer, vice-president of the Kelowna and District Manufactured Home Owners Association. He said he hoped the 77-page agreement, which took nine years to reach, will allow non-native residents some say in band decisions that affect them. "Until now we've had no security of tenure of any kind," said Manzer.
Kelowna residents known as the Concerned Citizens Group are worried non-natives who live on reserve but can't vote in band council elections will be subject to taxation without representation. Bill Duyvewaardt is concerned about clauses in the deal that make Westbank laws superior to some provincial and federal laws, particularly in landlord-tenant issues and policing.
Gordon Okenden said a secretive process led to the deal. "People in the area were not informed. I've been to many Westbank First Nation tripartite (treaty) meetings and this self-government act surprised a lot of us."
But Westbank chief negotiator Tim Raybould heralded self-government as a way for First Nations to escape the confines of the Indian Act. The Westbank band understands non-native residents are a key source of band income, he said. "The band realizes they depend on the goodwill of citizens at large. Were not going to chase them off."
The document is only an agreement-in-principle and separate from treaty talks requiring more negotiation and clarification, he added. After the final agreement is in place, an open ratification vote will be held.
But band member Tom Lindley said the agreement was "tainted right from the word go" because the band council never held a vote on whether negotiations should proceed in 1989. Council members hefty salaries, paid mostly with government money, call their loyalties into question, he said. "This is a form of government being imposed upon us. Its not what a lot of people want."
Youth who oppose the treaty process occupied band offices in May for a couple of days before being removed by police.