UPDATED TUESDAY JUNE 18 Anti-treaty protestors who shut down a ratification vote on Saturday, June 16, stayed at the Salish Centre all weekend and into Tuesday, preventing Sliammon Treaty Society staff from going to work in the morning, June 19.
About six protestors were on site Monday, calling for a forensic audit of the treaty society. About a dozen protestors placed vehicles in front of the building’s doors on Saturday, blocking community members from voting on the treaty. The society’s offices are on the top floor of the Salish Centre.
Chief Clint Williams told the Peak Monday morning that Tla’amin will be seeking an injunction and enforcement order from the Supreme Court of British Columbia to give the RCMP the authority to remove the blockade. As well, the ratification committee has been meeting to review what’s needed to set a new date. “We will be setting a new date,” he said.
Powell River RCMP Sergeant Rod Wiebe said police have been talking to both sides. "We would love to see a peaceful end to this and to this point, everything has been peaceful," he said. "Once those documents come through, we'll review them and decide how our operations will work from there."
The protestors released a three-page statement, which summarizes their concerns with the treaty process. “We feel that there has not been full disclosure as to what the Sliammon people stand to lose if the treaty is implemented,” it states in part. “We stand for our future generations, we stand for our ancestors and we stand for this land that was never surrendered.”
The protestors are concerned with who is considered eligible to enrol and vote on the treaty. They also alleged voting irregularities took place in Tacoma, where a polling station was set up. Other polls also took place in Vancouver and Victoria.
RCMP officers were on site Saturday, as were Williams, members of the treaty society and the treaty ratification team, as well as the chief electoral officer, Fred Schiffner. The ratification committee is made up of representatives from Tla’amin and the federal and provincial governments, to oversee the voting process, in consultation with the chief electoral officer.
The ratification committee has stated that the votes already cast are valid and are in the custody and control of the chief electoral officer.
The Tla’amin poll was supposed to be open from 10 am to 8 pm on Saturday. Williams said between 200 to 250 people were expected to vote.
Kevin Blaney, one of the protestors, told the Peak the blockade aimed to stop the voting process. “What we want to do is to have some of these areas of great concern researched so we can find out exactly what is going on with respect to some of these areas,” he said.
Blaney said his biggest concern is with the division the process has created in the community. “It has divided this community in a way that I think there’s going to be a great deal of time before that healing begins, where people can come back to the circle and start to talk about what the issues really are, what they have been for a long, long time,” he said.
Tracy Timothy, another protestor and a former band councillor who had been involved in negotiations, said terms of the treaty had been dictated by the federal and provincial governments. For example, Timothy said, there was a proposal by Tla’amin for resource revenue sharing. “It was all voted down,” he said. “Everything was no.”
Another concern he has is aboriginal rights and title, Timothy said. “They have my aboriginal right on the table. That’s my right. You can’t sell my right. It’s mine. They’re negotiating my aboriginal right away.”
Sandy Point, another protestor, said he had no trust in Tla’amin negotiators. “We’re not ready. We need more qualified people to be sitting at the table with lawyers and negotiators.”
Sherry Bullock, another protestor, said she was the mother of 10 children who were Tla’amin band members. “I’m standing here for them,” she said. “My concern is that treaty is a termination of anything that is going to be left for our children in the future.”
She also said she was concerned with “illegal votes and illegal enrolment. It’s not fair. People are being paid to vote yes.”
Tla’amin has been in the BC Treaty Commission process since 1994. The final agreement, which negotiators reached in June 2010, has provisions for self-government, economic development, resource revenue, forestry and fishing rights, as well as about 8,322 hectares of land and nearly $30 million over 10 years.
Mary Polak, BC’s minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, issued a strongly worded statement Saturday night.
"This is not a first nations issue,” Polak said in the release. “This is about democracy. Voting is a fundamental right of every Canadian. As the minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, I am extremely disappointed the community was not allowed to express its wishes regarding this treaty. However, the far greater issue is that the basic right to vote, that all Canadians possess, was denied today.
"All Canadians should be concerned about this direct attack on one of our most fundamental rights.
"The British Columbia government has been working with the Tla'amin Nation since 1994 to negotiate this treaty. It is deeply regrettable that this theft of democratic rights happened in plain view of authorities, who took no conclusive actions.”
Sophie Pierre, chief commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission, also issued a statement on Sunday. “The small number of Tla’amin members who blocked the doors to the polling station in Sliammon village near Powell River have trampled on the rights of the Tla’amin people,” she said.
The commission will continue to support Williams and the Tla’amin community to ensure there is a vote and that everyone can participate, the statement continued. “The parties and the police must work together to ensure Tla’amin First Nation can safely conduct a treaty vote by its members,” Pierre also said. “These Tla’amin members who blocked the doors to the polling stations claim to speak for the many. They are saying they know what is best for Tla’amin. But the decision to accept or reject the treaty is a decision that each Tla’amin member has the right to make on their own.”
Protestors told the Peak Monday morning that no one had spoken to them over the weekend, but representatives of their group were planning on attending a scheduled chief and council meeting today.
Williams said there was nothing to negotiate. The protestors gave Williams a list of names that they said did not belong on the voters’ list. “We need proof, because the first round of names they submitted to us were all tied back to Sliammon,” he said. “There’s just a little over 1,000 people on the Sliammon band list and there are several names on there that I don’t recognize. There have been many people who have been adopted or married and their surname changes. Some people have just legally changed their names. I want to see facts. I don’t want to be going on ‘I heard.’”
The ratification committee travelled to the polling stations in Tacoma, Vancouver and Victoria to oversee the voting procedure, Williams said, along with the chief electoral officer. Williams said Tla’amin offered to pay expenses for one or two representatives from the anti-treaty group to also attend the out-of-town polling stations as scrutineers. “One of the elders took us up on that, Bertha Treakle,” he said.