[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.]
Police moved in and carted out about 18 young natives from the offices of an Okanagan Indian band last night after a three-day standoff. "It came to a relatively quick resolution," said RCMP Const. Garth Letcher. More than a dozen of the protesters left after an injunction was read to them. The others offered passive resistance and were carried out by police. It was unclear if charges would be laid. The occupation of the Westbank band's office near Kelowna is the latest in a series of escalating protests by the Native Youth Movement.
The protesters say they're being "sold out" by native leaders anxious to settle land claims. The protesters also want the provincial government to scrap the four-year-old BC Treaty Commission, which it set up to help speed up land-claim negotiations. "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," protester Tori Baptiste said. "The Chief and council of the so-called Westbank First Nation have no right to negotiate away our aboriginal title and rights."
Rose Caldwell, 40, one of a few non-youths in the group, said some native leaders are personally profiting through the treaty negotiation process. "There's a lot of people lining their pockets in this process and at the end they'll just walk away and leave the band with all kinds of debt," she said. Westbank negotiator Tim Reybould was physically thrown out of the building soon after the three dozen or so protesters marched in on Monday afternoon. Police say he was not injured. Band officials said there was some damage to the office and files were ransacked. But talks between band leaders and the protesters, over a meal that was sent in yesterday afternoon, helped ease the tense situation.
Vowing to take their fight to cities throughout the province, 23 protesters from the Native Youth Movement were led peacefully away to jail last night. The mass arrest, orchestrated with calm efficiency by the RCMP, proved an almost serene end to 32 hours of tension during which the protesters occupied the Westbank First Nation office. Seventeen other protesters were searched by police and allowed to leave before the arrests were made. They drove away to chants, whoops, drums and raised fists by those left behind.
But by the time the others were taken out of the building, few of their comrades seemed to be still in the area. Although the protesters who were taken into custody usually three at a time - raised their fists and let out victory whoops, there was little response from the rain-soaked spectators still looking on. Members of the group faced a 16-person arrest team which led them to a makeshift "booking table" where they were fingerprinted and photographed before being loaded on a sheriff's bus. A total of 35-40 officers were on hand for the end of the occupation. RCMP spokesman Garth Letcher said most of those arrested would probably be released overnight if they signed an undertaking not to go near the band office.
Those who refused, or were under a previous undertaking after last month's occupation of the BC Treaty Commission in Vancouver, would likely be kept in jail until a court appearance. The numbers weren't available at press time. Those arrested face a civil contempt of court charge in Supreme Court for not obeying an injunction issued Monday to leave the building. No date has been set for an appearance. All members of the occupation force also face a civil suit from the band for trespass and any damage that might have been done to the offices. No apparent damage could be seen when the media was allowed inside to hear the four-page injunction read for the final time.
Westbank band member Rose Caldwell, a leader of the protest, said the group's battle to end the treaty process in BC was only starting. "We want the treaty process stopped," said Caldwell. "If this is the action we have to take, I'm sorry, this is the action we have to take." The group has charged the Westbank band leaders with lining their own pockets and "selling out" natives'aboriginal title to land. Earlier in the day, Pentiction Indian Band Chief Stewart Philip helped mediate the dispute, but not without condemning the Westbank chief and council. "They are corrupt," he said. "Their hair is turning white by the minute worrying about what they (the protesters) find out in that office. They (protesters) have shamed (Westbank leaders). We hope the Westbank First Nation comes to its senses and withdraws from the treaty process."
Added Philip: "It's clear this kind of protest is not over. It will move from city to city until the treaty process is stopped." An unnamed NYM spokesman, wearing a bandana over his face, said there has been talk of reprisals against Caldwell. "We are aware that our enemies will use any and all means to stop us. If someone comes to her (Caldwell's) house to harass her, we'll be right there popping up from behind the bushes." Letcher said he couldn't estimate the police costs during the demonstration, but said some of the members were working on overtime.
Caldwell said the Westbank band's political elite are making so much money from the BC Treaty Commission that it's in their best interest to stay in the process. Caldwell said former chief Robert Louie, who sits on the Task Group of First Nations Summit, recieves $1,000 a day plus expenses for his role in the summit, and information sharing organization for bands in the treaty process. "That's $1,000 a day plus airfare to Vancouver or wherever," said Caldwell. "Then these people can go out for steak and lobster. Why would they want that to end?" The First Nations Summit denies that Louie is paid $1,000, but would not specify the amount.
Westbank Chief Brian Eli said Tuesday that band money isn't going toward Louie's stipend. "That has nothing to do with us," said Eli. "That's between him and the summit." Money has been an issue in the Westbank First Nation before, particularly during the last band election, which saw Eli defeat Louie. Louie was earning about $120,000.00 a year. "I've cut that to $65,000.00 said Eli. "That was one of the first things I wanted to get done." Eli said band councillors are also paid $65,000.00 annually. "We are all equal," he said. By contrast, Chief Stewart Philip of the Pentiction Indian Band earns $150 per month, as do all the members of their band council. The Westbank band has about 500 members while Pentiction has about 900 members.
The BC Treaty Commission says the federal and provincial governments provide funding to enable bands to participate in negotiations. The funding is comprised of a 20 per cent grant and 80 per cent in the form of a loan which must be repaid. Each band decides how to use its money. Protest spokesperson Tori Baptiste said of the treaty talks which 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."
The protesters have two other concerns: The treaties written to date would see aboriginal title to land and resources stripped away, even though the Supreme Court has recognized aboriginal title does exist in law. The Delgamuukw court decision says treaty negotiations should proceed on a "nation-to-nation basis". Westbank is just one of six bands within the larger Okanagan Nation, say the protesters. The other bands oppose Westbank going it alone.
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