Splatsin elders and members rally Thursday against  a July 16 claim settlement referendum.

Splatsin elders and members rally Thursday against a July 16 claim settlement referendum.

Splatsin elders fight for former cemetery

The Splatsin band council is still under pressure to back off a referendum

The Splatsin band council is still under pressure to back off a referendum.

Members gathered Thursday to oppose plans for a July 16 referendum on a $300,000 offer from the federal government for a cemetery that was removed from the reserve.

“Our elders came together in a really strong way,” said Jody Leon, who helped organize the rally.

In 1877, the federal government agreed to designate the three-quarters-of-an-acre cemetery as reserve but the land was excluded in 1930. It is now privately owned by a local farmer.

On Thursday, the elders presented a declaration to a band councillor and the document calls for the referendum to be cancelled.

“They want more work done and then we can talk to the government,” said Leon.

“They want an archeological study done so the farmer knows where the ancestors are and we know where the ancestors are.”

They also want the site purchased by the federal and provincial governments and a monument installed.

Chief Wayne Christian could not be reached for comment, but in a recent interview, he stated council’s goal is to have residents directly involved.

“It’s about getting information to our people and they can make a decision. People need to exercise their right to vote,” he said, adding that there have been information sessions over two years.

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

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

Leon is hopeful council will listen to those who gathered Thursday.

“The elders are reminding them that they are here to help. The elders’ role is to protect sacred places,” she said, adding that the elders have also opened dialogue with the property owner.

“He is stuck in a dilemma. We are very respectful of the relationship with him.”