Fortune Field is the focus of a referendum among Splatsin band members.

Fortune Field is the focus of a referendum among Splatsin band members.

Land claim creates debate within Splatsin band

Cemetery was removed from the reserve in the 1930s and is now the focus of a referendum

Divisions are developing within the Splatsin community.

Band members will vote July 16 on whether to accept $300,000 from the federal government for a cemetery that was removed from the reserve. Some elders and other residents are calling on the claim settlement to be turned down.

“Send a message to Splatsin chief and council that the ancestors’ bones are not for sale,” said Jody Leon, on behalf of the elders, in a release.

In 1877, the federal government agreed to designate the three-quarters-of-an-acre cemetery as part of the reserve but the land was excluded in 1930.

“This agreement was not honoured and the land was illegally transferred,” said Leon.

“This land is a sacred place. Neither the Heritage Act nor the Cemetery Act has protected this graveyard from being farmed or built on.”

Leon says there is concern about how the issue has been handled by current council.

Despite the Splatsin elders presenting a signed petition to chief and council, asking that the referendum be cancelled, chief and council have indicated that the vote will go ahead,” she said.

Chief Wayne Christian insists there is a need for the referendum over the future of the cemetery, known as Fortune Field.

“People want transparency and accountability and that’s what the referendum is all about,” he said.

Christian says about 40 people attended a meeting in 1991 and turned down Ottawa’s offer so a referendum is being held this time to encourage more people to participate.

He also says there have been eight information sessions about the matter over two years.

“It’s about getting information to our people and they can make a decision. People need to exercise their right to vote.”

The elders are demanding an archaeological study to identify all of the remains on the property and they want the site purchased by the federal and provincial governments who allowed the cemetery to be ploughed under.  They also want the land fenced and a monument installed.

“The elders and supporters question whether this would be the same callous approach if a non-aboriginal cemetery was in question,” said Leon in the release.

As part of the federal specific claims process,  Christian says the band could possibly purchase the land from the private owner if there is a successful referendum.

“We can’t go there right now because we don’t have a mandate from the community for the process,” he said.

“Either way with a vote, we have clear direction. If there is no vote, there are other processes we will have to look at.”

Elders and their supporters will meet Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Splatsin Community Centre.

“This meeting is being organized to bring attention to the many unresolved issues in relation to the referendum,” said Leon.

Christian says council has been transparent and there’s now a need for band members to be accountable.

“People are always asking that they need to be heard and what a better way to be heard then by voting?” he said.