After serving a court injunction at 6:45 p.m. Monday, Kelowna RCMP were hoping to end an occupation of the Westbank First Nation offices peacefully. Between 50 and 60 protesters from the Native Youth Movement invaded the Westbank band's headquarters on Highway 97 South just before noon Monday. The group was protesting what it called a "sell-out" of young natives by band management in BC treaty negotiations. The injunction granted by a BC Supreme Court justice at 4:30 p.m. Monday warns protesters to leave or they will be in contempt of court.
RCMP were empowered to enforce the injunction. They faced the prospect of the largest mass arrest in this area since the Kelowna Regatta riot of 1986. Moments after the injunction was posted at the front door, RCMP spokesman Const. Garth Letcher said police would wait for protesters to read the injunction, digest it and decide whether they wanted to leave. "I want to stress that it is a peaceful occupation but it is an unlawful trespass situation. We won't take them out physically tonight," he said, but he emphasized: "They will eventually have to move on." There was only minor violence as the band office staff left the building with police looking on. However, Westbank land title negotiator Tim Reybould, who had stayed behind, was physically thrown out of the building three hours later by six of the protesters.
"The dialogue is over," Reybould said to the protesters before making a brief comment to police and then leaving the area. The group entered the offices packing sleeping bags, drums and some food supplies. Police in five cars arrived shortly after, but aside from speaking with some of the protest leaders the officers took no action other than to videotape those coming and going. A protester videotaped police in return. The protesters made their demands public before barring the doors to the media. Some of the protesters were seen jimmying open drawers and cabinets as the last of the non-protesters departed. BC Tel had cut off phone service to the building by 1:30 p.m.
"We young people fully understand that the BC Treaty Process was designed to dispossess us youth of our aboriginal title to our lands and our inherent rights to resources contained within our territories," said protest spokesperson Tori Baptiste of the treaty talks wich have been ongoing with the Westbank band for two years. "The chief and council of the so-called Westbank First Nation have no right to negotiate away our aboriginal title and rights. "No single band or so called, self appointed first nation has the right to sell out our inheritance or birthright. We will not be sold out by these people who pretend to be native leaders."
The group decided to occupy the offices following a four-day meeting in Westbank. Westbank's Rose Caldwell, and older spokesperson for the group, said she plans to carry on the occupation "for as long as it takes. "I'm not leaving," she said. "They'll have to arrest me to get me out of here. But I'm speaking for myself. Everybody has the right to stay or leave of their own accord, but the consensus is that we will all stay until our demands are met or we are arrested." Six protesters asked at random agreed with Caldwell's position on continuing the occupation. None would say if they would resist arrest.
The largest number of people arrested in Kelowna was 105 during the Kelowna Regatta weekend riot in 1986. Caldwell was one of 14 protesters arrested last month after a similar sit-in at the BC Treaty Commission Office in Vancouver. "They needed three officers to remove each of us," said Caldwell, adding that while most of the protesters were from the Okanagan, some were from Vancouver. Police would not comment on what logistical plans were being considered. Band councillor Larry Derrickson said the protesters were not willing to discuss the issues. "They have come here uninformed to disturb the business of this office," said Derrickson. "We had hoped to resolve this issue, but the attitude of the group is that when we tried to explain the (treaty) process, they didn't want to hear it."
Native Youth Movmement
(604) 977-1510 (pager) or (604) 490-5314: Monty Joseph or David Dennis
BC Premier Glen Clark
Phone: (250) 387-1715
Westbank Band Council
Phone (250) 769-4999
Fax (250) 769-4377
Kelowna RCMP detachment
Phone (250) 762-3300
Please cc letters to S.I.S.I.S., at SISIS@envirolink.org