Band coun­cil drops con­tentious plan

Com­mu­nity had voted to dis­trib­ute money equally among band mem­bers

The Peterborough Examiner - - Front Page - JOELLE KOVACH Ex­am­iner Staff Writer

Curve Lake First Na­tion band coun­cil has dropped a plan to keep 30 per cent of a set­tle­ment of $154.4 mil­lion - in­stead it will al­low 100 per cent of the money to be dis­trib­uted equally among band mem­bers, which fol­lows the will of a com­mu­nity vote that was sup­posed to be bind­ing.

Band coun­cil held an emer­gency meet­ing on Thurs­day evening where they over­turned the de­ci­sion to with­hold 30 per cent of the money.

Band mem­ber Iris Tay­lor posted to Face­book a video of her­self from the meet­ing where she re­acts to the re­ver­sal.

“They lis­tened - we won!” she said. “Thank you! Keep the pres­sure on and make sure they fol­low through!”

That morn­ing, Tay­lor was one of about 50 peo­ple at an an­gry protest out­side the govern­ment of­fices at Curve Lake First Na­tion.

Band mem­bers staged the rally in ob­jec­tion to coun­cil’s ap­par­ently uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to keep about $46.3 mil­lion of the set­tle­ment money for pur­poses such as buy­ing more land to ex­pand the re­serve, a memo from coun­cil to band mem­bers from Tues­day states.

The memo came as a sur­prise to band mem­bers.

They’d pre­vi­ously re­ceived a let­ter from Chief Phyl­lis Wil­liams stat­ing that the com­mu­nity vote Oct. 27 would be bind­ing – but then the memo from Tues­day said coun­cil was keep­ing a share.

Ev­ery­one can pick up a cheque later this month for $12,590, states the memo.

That was each mem­ber’s 70 per cent share of the pro­vin­cial por­tion of the set­tle­ment, which was $65.7 mil­lion (and has been paid).

A fur­ther pay­ment will come to band mem­bers in spring, when the fed­eral por­tion of the set­tle­ment of $98.6 mil­lion pays out.

The memo didn’t say ex­actly how much more each mem­ber will get in the spring, but it was likely to have been about $20,000.

That would have been $32,000 in to­tal per per­son, rather than $45,000 (if coun­cil didn’t keep any of the money).

Band mem­bers were up­set on Thurs­day morn­ing about what they called a bro­ken prom­ise from coun­cil; they or­ga­nized the rally overnight.

Brit­tany Tay­lor, a band mem­ber who lives on re­serve, said the com­mu­nity was let down by its coun­cil.

“They (coun­cil) made this de­ci­sion with­out us,” she said, as peo­ple ar­rived and made protest signs. “Hope­fully they (coun­cil­lors) will re­think their de­ci­sion in the end.”

Later a shout­ing match erupted when Coun. Lau­rie Hock­a­day and Coun. Gary Wil­liams came out­side to face about 50 pro­test­ers.

The coun­cil­lors said they wouldn’t be mak­ing any com­ments in front of white re­porters and that en­raged the peo­ple.

“Why don’t you want them (re­porters) here?” screamed Iris Tay­lor, who’d driven from her home in Toronto with ehr in­fant daugh­ter to join the protest.

“Why don’t you want them to tell what’s hap­pen­ing in our com­mu­nity? Peo­ple need to know!”

Curve Lake First Na­tion voted in June to ac­cept the set­tle­ment from the fed­eral and On­tario govern­ments as part of a larger, $1.1-bil­lion set­tle­ment for seven area First Na­tions.

Mem­bers of the Curve Lake, Hi­awatha, Alderville, Mis­sis­saugas of Scu­gog, Chippe­was of Ge­orgina Is­land, and Beau­soleil First Na­tions all ac­cepted the pro­posed set­tle­ment.

The deal was meant to end decades of court lit­i­ga­tions and ne­go­ti­a­tions over the con­tro­ver­sial Wil­liams Treaties from 1923, The Toronto Star re­ported in June.

The First Na­tions have al­leged for years that the Crown un­justly crafted and im­ple­mented th­ese agree­ments with­out fair com­pen­sa­tion for their land, The Star re­ported, and that the na­tions never sur­ren­dered fish­ing, hunt­ing and other rights in the 20th­cen­tury treaties.

When they voted on whether to ac­cept the set­tle­ment, Curve Lake band mem­bers weren’t told in ad­vance what the chief and coun­cil planned to do with the money – and some mem­bers had grave con­cerns about that.

Two of them spoke to The Ex­am­iner at the time, on con­di­tion of anonymity, to say they were con­cerned that if they ac­cepted the set­tle­ment the chief and coun­cil would uni­lat­er­ally de­cide whether or not money would be dis­trib­uted to band mem­bers.

But in Septem­ber, Chief Phyl­lis Wil­liams sent let­ters to mem­bers stat­ing that coun­cil wanted to en­sure they would have the chance to give their in­put on how the money would be spent.

“Coun­cil has de­ter­mined the per capita dis­tri­bu­tion will be de­cided by the mem­ber­ship through the com­mu­nity vot­ing process,” the let­ter states.

That vote took place at Curve Lake on Oct. 27, and Brit­tany Tay­lor said she later re­ceived a memo from coun­cil say­ing 86 per cent of those who voted wanted all the money to be dis­trib­uted evenly among mem­bers.

But the memo from Tues­day states that coun­cil would re­tain 30 per cent of the set­tle­ment be­cause the com­mu­nity vote had taken place be­fore coun­cil re­ceived le­gal ad­vice about its fidu­ciary duty to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“Coun­cil apol­o­gizes for not wait­ing for this le­gal ad­vice,” states the memo. It goes on to ex­plain that hand­ing out 100 per cent of the money to mem­bers would have been “an ab­ro­ga­tion of our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties”.

Iris Tay­lor would have none of that, on Thurs­day morn­ing.

“You lied and said, ‘Oh, we didn’t seek le­gal ad­vice!’” she screamed at Coun. Wil­liams. “You didn’t cross a T or dot an I with­out le­gal con­sul­ta­tion!”

Coun. Wil­liams did not re­spond to the ac­cu­sa­tion of lies.

The memo also out­lines what coun­cil plans to do with 30 per cent of the money – which is roughly $46.3 mil­lion.

About $26.5 mil­lion will go to pur­chase 11,000 acres of land “to add to our re­serve”, it states, be­cause they are ex­pect­ing 1,000 new mem­bers to add to the cur­rent mem­ber­ship of 2,360 peo­ple, and ev­ery­one must be ac­com­mo­dated.

There’s go­ing to be a surge in mem­ber­ship ap­pli­ca­tions soon, the memo pre­dicts, due to new leg­is­la­tion to give more peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply for In­dian sta­tus in Canada.

The memo also says coun­cil plans to pay le­gal fees and the cost of run­ning the com­mu­nity votes – about $460,000.

That leaves coun­cil with about $19.3 mil­lion; coun­cil would con­sult with the com­mu­nity about their pri­or­i­ties for this money, the memo stated.

Chief Phyl­lis Wil­liams never ap­peared at the protest, and she didn’t re­turn calls from The Ex­am­iner on Thurs­day.

But Coun. Gary Wil­liams told the an­gry pro­test­ers that coun­cil was right to save for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“Curve Lake should get some­thing,” he told the crowd. “If we give up ev­ery­thing, it’s go­ing to be gone, guys.”

Eli­jah Craw­ford, an 18-year-old mem­ber who’s en­rolled in the In­dige­nous Stud­ies pro­gram at Trent Uni­ver­sity, shouted in fury at Coun. Wil­liams.

“You should never have turned your back on th­ese peo­ple – our peo­ple!” he ex­claimed.

Coun. Wil­liams had a ques­tion for the stu­dent: “Af­ter you get your ed­u­ca­tion, and there’s no money to run this ship, what do we do?”

CLIF­FORD SKARSTEDT EX­AM­INER

Coun. Gary Wil­liams con­fronts pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing Avis Lor­raine Knott-Ja­cobs, gath­ered out­side the Curve Lake First Na­tion govern­ment build­ing Thurs­day morn­ing to protest that the chief and coun­cil had voted to re­tain 30 per cent of set­tle­ment money af­ter the com­mu­nity voted to dis­trib­ute 100 per cent of the money to band mem­bers.

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