Members of the Splatsin community blockaded band buildings Monday in a call for a new election, which they say is long overdue.
The Splatsin members feel the current chief and council is not providing adequate leadership.
In calling for a new vote, they used vehicles to block access to the Splatsin Community Centre, the Splatsin Health Centre and the band office.
The blockades started around 7:30 a.m. on April 17, and the protesters asked people coming into work in the blockaded buildings not to cross the picket line.
Some protesters stood in place until 5 p.m., after which an emergency community meeting was called, which Chief Doug Thomas said was not sanctioned by chief and council. More than 100 Splatsin members attended the meeting in person or virtually, including three councillors.
Protesters held up signs reading “enough is enough,” “new election,” “call the vote” and “no more delays.”
“They need to get the message, they’re not wanted in leadership positions, the community is suffering underneath this leadership,” said Setatkwa Christian, one of the protesters. “Indigenous people already suffer pretty bad, so to be under a system that we’re under right now, it’s hoping that the people’s voices can be heard.”
Christian echoed other protesters in saying that council is divided, which in turn is dividing the community. “They just can’t get along,” she said.
The protesters called for transparency and honesty from chief and council, and said a vote of non-confidence in December that should have triggered a new election has resulted in no action for months.
Protester Gloria Morgan said there have been three dates set for nomination meetings but all three were cancelled.
“From the very beginning this council has had difficulties getting along in council chambers, and in June of last year, the chief hired a lawyer against three of his council members,” Morgan said.
“For the last year and four months we’ve seen nothing and heard nothing but squabbling. Our community is so divided.”
According to a court document, a decision to hold a new election was made by a majority of councillors. However, Splatsin councillor Beverly Thomas is challenging that decision in federal court. Thomas’ court challenge seeks a judicial review of the decision to call a new election and calls for an order setting aside the election call.
The court document says Thomas is bringing this application “on behalf of Splatsin band members to have their democratic rights vindicated from the last election.”
The judicial review application argues that under Splatsin’s election code, council doesn’t have the authority to call a new election in the middle of a four-year term.
Splatsin councillor Theresa William was at the protest and said three council members, including herself, are in full support of a new election, but “others are against what the people are saying,” and there is a “big divide” on council, a divide that’s centred on the question of whether or not to hold a new election.
She said she was proud of the members of the community that came out to protest.
“I’m really proud of them that they’re getting their voices heard and they’re making us hear them,” she said.
“And we’re still not listening – well some of us aren’t. I’m glad that they’re doing this, to show us, give us a kick in the butt.”
Splatsin councillor Len Edwards also showed up at the protest.
From his perspective, the anger in the community stems from council’s failure to do business efficiently.
“I can see people getting fed up with what’s been happening in council chambers,” he said.
He added the fact that council is divided isn’t the main problem.
“The disagreements are OK, it’s conducting business. We can’t seem to move forward with business,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of other things that we have to do and we’re not accomplishing anything.”
Edwards said council has been trying to move forward with a new election for months, but “every time we get to a spot where we think we are going to have an election, somebody brings something new up and it stops it.”
Roughly 30 Splatsin members came out to the protest, and a petition calling for a new election has garnered more than 130 signatures.
The RCMP briefly appeared at the protest to ensure the safety of people lining up along the road.
Chief Doug Thomas did not return calls for comment before this story’s publication.