Kwantlen First Nation Band Members Call for a Vote
In an unprecedented move, Kwantlen First Nation Band Members have submitted a petition to the Hereditary Chief demanding change in how the band is run.
Langley, British Columbia - 8 March, 2019
Today, 31 voting-age members of the Kwantlen First Nation - a number equal to more than 50% of the on-reserve adult population - submitted a petition to the band’s chief and council, demanding elections for a citizens assembly, an elected body which will be tasked to work with the chief and council to create a written governance code for the band.
The Kwantlen First Nation is one of more than a dozen First Nations across Canada that are under so-called “hereditary” rule. This is a form of government with no elections, where all positions on council are appointed by the chief. Additionally, Kwantlen has no written governance rules - something confirmed by hereditary chief Marilyn Gabriel, and by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). Without written rules, and with power centralized with the Hereditary Chief, many band members - especially those off reserve - feel excluded from their band government and without a recourse to make changes.
Several times over the last 40 years, Kwantlen members have organized to replace the Hereditary Chief and Council with democratically elected officials - most notably in 1993 with a federal court case, which was ultimately abandoned.
Due to a widespread anxiety about potential retribution by supporters of the hereditary chief and council, band members recruited a third party to verify the validity of petition submissions, and then anonymize the entries. Ottawa-based Carleton University Professor of Indigenous Studies, Veldon Coburn was recruited as a neutral party. Coburn collected signed petitions, and then reported the number of valid petitions via an affidavit submitted today with the petition.
The 2-week campaign for petition signatures was, by necessity, run largely in secret. When news of it ultimately leaked throughout the band, petition organizers reported intimidation from self-declared supporters of the hereditary chief and council. This included a written threat by the band’s Cultural Center Director, Tony Dandurand. Dandurand, a renowned playwright, who was recently named by the Vancouver Public Library as their Indigenous Writer in Residence, posted on the Facebook page of petition committee member, Robert Jago: “If you ever come at me with your stupid pettiions (sic). You better keep your [expletive] heads up because you just crossed the line.”
Commenting on the post, Jago said: “this type of intimidation, and these not-so-veiled threats show why change, and the rule of law is needed on reserve. For every person who signed, it seems that three were scared away by fear of comments like those from Mr Dandurand.”
In their petition, Kwantlen members wrote: “We, the People, withdraw our support for the hereditary system of government,” and made several demands, including that a letter be issued by the Band Council by March 22nd, 2019, confirming Chief and council’s acceptance of the band members’ terms, and the promise of an election for a citizens assembly.
A copy of this petition has also been sent to Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous Services Seamus O’Regan (along with their counterparts in the opposition), with a request that - should the band fail to respect the wishes of the Kwantlen people, the Ministers appoint a representative of their Department to intervene and mediate the dispute. Should dispute resolution fail, the ministers are asked to exercise their authority to bring the band under the First Nations Elections Act.
The right to vote for ones leaders, and the rule of law are the birthright of every person in this country - including every First Nations citizen. It is wrong that for so long, these rights have been ignored, and that forms of government which deprive Canadians of their natural rights have continued with support from the federal government. With their petition, the people of Kwantlen plead for that support to end and for the will of the people to prevail.
Absent any elections, this petition - run through a neutral third party - is the only way for Kwantlen people to speak up and make their leadership choices known. The chief and council have until March 22nd to publish their reply on the band website and social media.
Any questions on the petition can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Images of the Kwantlen McMillan Island Reserve for media use: