APTN National News
Indigenous Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett has told APTN National News she is reviewing allegations of corruption on Peters First Nation that elders say is extinguishing their family lines.
Elders wrote Bennett last month pleading with her to step in to help solve their membership issues.
“Our family lines are being extinguished,” wrote Ed Peters, 74, the oldest surviving member of Peters reserve about two hours east of Vancouver.
The “vehicle” for that extinguishment is Section 10 of the Indian Act, Ed Peters wrote, along with fellow elders Robert and Dorothy Peters.
Section 10 came into effect in 1987 under Bill C-31 allowing bands to control their membership as long as the minister signed off on a membership code. After doing so the government would still grant status but not membership.
Just over 230 bands were given the special status 30 years ago and it was developed to deal with the influx of applicants resulting from Bill C-31 that gave women their status back after losing it for marrying a non-status person. It also gave status to their children.
“There is going to be a lot of complexity but I’d love to know more about Peters First Nation,” said Bennett “I know (Section 10) is problematic and I want to know more.”
Bennett received two letters last month from members of Peters band – one from the elders and another from Samantha Peters, 41. They have not received a response.
APTN provided paper copies of the letters during an interview with Bennett who said she will be reviewing them.
“I’ll read them and then we’ll find out,” said Bennett referring to what steps she may be able to take.
An APTN investigation has uncovered that once Peters got control of its own membership, it limited the number of people allowed to be members – despite people appearing to qualify under the membership code, which has kept the number of eligible voters low, as well.
There are 165 status Indians registered to the band but only 42 can cast a ballot in elections. As Peters is basically one big family, some members there say one side has had control ever since 1987.
“The Voters Lists used by this Band are corrupt,” wrote Robert Peters, whose son, Guy Peters, 51, has been denied membership several times despite the membership code stating the ‘natural child’ of a member can be a member as well. Guy Peters is currently in Federal Court hoping a judicial review of his latest denied application will be overturned.
But all agree it’s creating a costly and lengthy legal battle few there can afford.
“This must end now,” wrote Samantha Peters to Bennett on Feb. 17. “We refuse to bear the brunt of costs, via litigation, of subject matter that is not any fault of our own.”
Samantha has been fighting the issue for several years now. It was a promise she made to her dying mother, Roberta Peters, in 2010. Before Roberta died she made Samantha promise to the fix the membership.
It was a fight Roberta has passed on from her mother, Minnie Peters.
Minnie wrote Brian Mulroney’s former Progressive Conservative government in 1990 pleading with the Indian Affairs minister at the time to step in. Her letter was also shared with Bennett.
“I am writing to you as my last resort,” she wrote the former Indian Affairs minister Pierre Cadieux on Jan. 4, 1990, less than three years after Peters became a Section 10 band. “Bill C-31 has unfortunately provided the opportunity through Section 10 for what is a virtual dictatorship to become a legal and permanent entity.”
She went on to say, “the chief is accountable to no one and can maintain his power through intimidation, the control of information and the manipulation of resources.”
In her letter, Minnie Peters outlined how the chief was then able to quickly put a stranglehold on the reserve, alleging he didn’t hold council meetings, gave his daughter membership even though she had married a “non-Indian” years before C-31, while refusing to accept other C-31 applicants, including elders who wanted to return home, and his son had a new home while other members lived in derelict housing.
Samantha kept her promise to her mom by submitting more than 66 applications for people who have status through Peters but are not members, including Ed Peters’ two children – he’s the elder but his children were not members.
None were approved, including an elder who wanted to return home before she died.
There are nine people with applications currently open, but only a handful have received a response from the band council after filing them in October. Their applications were put off until the latest election on Jan. 19, which the members have appealed to Indigenous Affairs asking the government to overturn it over alleged manipulation of the membership list.
As that is being reviewed by INAC, they are asking Bennett to launch her own investigation into Peters.
“Now, it has gone too far, for too long, and we beg your intervention to remedy the alleged transgressions,” wrote Samantha Peters.