(Eva May Nelson with her son Lenard Nelson before her death in 2015. Photo supplied by family.)
APTN National News
Trapped beneath impassable thickets of thorny blackberry bushes was the rusted evidence of Eva May Nelson’s life on Peters First Nation.
For decades wild bushes had blanketed the land Nelson was born on in British Columbia.
That is until Nelson pulled into the driveway of Samantha Peters unannounced one summer day in 2013.
“I had no idea who she was,” said Peters. “I had never met her.”
Nelson pointed to the blackberry bushes and said her house used to be there – all that remained was a rusted old stove. Nelson mentioned the apple trees she used to pick apples from as a child.
“I told her, ‘your apple trees are still here,’” said Peters.
Nelson, who went to St. Mary’s residential school, explained how she was born on the reserve.
Her father, Harry Joe Peters, was even the chief back in the 1950s.
But she had lost contact with Peters many moons ago.
It was different back then when Indian Agents held power over them.
She married someone an agent believed was a white man and lost her status.
She also had her name crossed off the Peters band list.
After about 1950 it was like Nelson never existed on Peters.
It remained that way until 1986.
She got her status back through Bill C-31.
But she didn’t get her name back on the band list.
The blackberry bushes would conceal her life on Peters until she met Samantha Peters, a woman Nelson purposely wanted to meet.
Word was getting around that Samantha was trying to help people become members of the band. She had just submitted 66 applications for membership.
She added one more in June 2013.
In Nelson’s application, who was 80 at the time, was her birth certificate which had a name no one had seen in a long while – the original name of Peters First Nation – Squawtits (pronounced Squawtich). It’s believed it was changed to Peters in the 1950s.
“It’s the first time we saw it on any documents,” said Samantha Peters.
Almost two years later Nelson died on May 26, 2015.
“She died before she ever became a member. I don’t think her membership application was properly considered,” said Samantha.
But that is a common theme on the reserve and a focus of several stories by APTN National News over the last month.
Peters is a Section 10 band meaning the council controls who are members, not Indigenous Affairs. Once the minister of Indigenous Affairs approves a membership code all power of who is a member goes to council, yet they are supposed to follow the code.
Peters’ code states if you are the natural child of a member you are entitled to be a member. Both of Nelson’s parents had died years ago. They are both said to be buried in Peters’ cemetery.
It’s not clear if this means Nelson should qualify as a member and Peters’ council has repeatedly refused to answer questions from APTN.
Documents appear to show people were improperly removed by the former chief the late Frank Peters after his council got control of membership in late 1987.
Two of Nelson’s children, Charlotte and Lenard, have applications in to be members. Lenard and Charlotte filed their applications last October but only Lenard said he has received a response from council.
His application remains unresolved.
Charlotte said she hasn’t received a response despite the membership code stating all applicants are supposed to receive notice within 30 days.
She remembers going to the Peters band council office in 1991 to have her status card renewed.
“I was told by Frank (Peters) he wouldn’t do it for me because I might come back in five years demanding land,” she said.
Neither Charlotte or Lenard have much and have never asked anything from Peters except when their mom died. They asked council for help to bury their mother.
“They donated $150 and that is all,” said Lenard. “That’s nothing really.”
When Eva May passed, she didn’t drive a new car and lived in the same modest home she bought with her late husband in Rosedale in 1954.
She wanted just one thing – to be a member to the land she was born on.
“Eva May Nelson was from here. Her dad was chief of the band,” said Samantha Peters.
“How can you deny her?”