Band council drops contentious plan
Community had voted to distribute money equally among band members
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?”
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.