APTN National News
Members of Peters First Nation have filed multiple appeals to Indigenous Affairs asking the department squash the recent election results over allegations of corruption stemming from the “unlawful” denial of membership to people who have status through the band.
Guy Peters, 51, Brandon Engstrom, 25, and Amber Ragan, 20, each have status through Peters and are children of current band members but were not able to vote in the Jan. 19 election.
The band’s membership code states if you are the “natural child” of a member you can become one, too.
But that didn’t happen last year when they applied to the band about two hours east of Vancouver along Highway 1 and next to the Fraser River in British Columbia.
“This is how the council keeps control, and it is direct manipulation of the elections of Indian Affairs,” wrote Robert Wilmer Peters, who is Guy’s father, in his election appeal to Indigenous Affairs.
His other son Robert Dwayne Peters is a member and his children are Engstrom and Ragan.
“I do not know where in the Indian Act this type of family annihilation is permitted,” said Robert Wilmer Peters, 71. “All of my descendants’ rights are being extinguished as I am forced to watch.”
But they weren’t alone.
Nine more people with status through Peters applied in October 2016 according to the appeals. Six applicants have never received a response despite the band’s membership code stating a response from band council is required within 30 days of the application being filed.
Three others, Carol Raymond, Lenard Nelson, Neil Peters, were contacted in November to set up a time to discuss their applications. But they never heard from the band again until six days after the election.
The applications remain open.
“Council exerted their control over and silenced (12) votes that they knew were going to be against them,” said Samantha Peters in her election appeal to Indigenous Affairs, adding she believed this to be ‘corrupt practices’.
The last election was close, as Chief Norma Webb was reelected by four votes and longtime councillor Victoria Peters won by two votes.
APTN asked Chief Webb and Victoria Peters for comment but never received a response.
Indigenous Affairs recognizes 165 people with status through the band, but only 42 are members who can vote in elections.
Peters is what’s known as a Section 10 band, meaning it decides who is a member, not Indigenous Affairs.
They’re one of about 230 First Nations in Canada with that authority.
They got that power in 1987 after Bill C-31 came into effect under the former Conservative government of Brian Mulroney.
That’s when the courts ruled that women, and their descendants, who previously lost their status for marrying a non-status person, could have it back.
Dozens of people APTN has interviewed said since Peters became a Section 10 band membership has been kept low and believe it’s to keep control.
“I think it has a lot do with the voting. They were scared they would get voted off for what they are now,” said Guy Peters. “It all has to do with being chief and council around here.”
Documents obtained by APTN show the chief at the time, the late Frank Peters, immediately removed 28 people from the list in 1987, including Guy Peters.
It appears in 1992 the federal government tried to add people to the membership list and received a letter from Frank Peters.
“Under no circumstances are you to transfer persons from one band registry list to the Peters band registry list without prior approval from the Peters Band Council,” he wrote.
He said that applies to people who have a parent registered to Peters, despite the membership code stating they were allowed to be members.
“We will make the decision whether or not this person will be a band member of not. That is what Section 10 of the Indian Act states and you will adhere to it,” Frank Peters said.
Guy Peters, Engstrom and Ragan have also filed for a judicial review of their membership applications in British Columbia.
APTN sought comment from Indigenous Affairs but has not yet received a response.