Chief says RCMP threatened to call in child and family services if parents failed to leave community - APTN NewsAPTN News

Chief says RCMP threatened to call in child and family services if parents failed to leave community


The Canadian Press

ALEXIS CREEK, B.C. – The chief of the Tl’etinqox First Nation said RCMP officers told them to leave or risk having their children taken away. Instead, they erected a fire boundary and prepared to fight.

“We are generation after generation that continue to live in a fire zone. This is not new to us,” said Chief Joe Alphonse, whose community is about 100 kilometres west of Williams Lake. “We feel this is the safest place for our community members to be.”

Emergency officials and police are urging British Columbia residents to respect evacuation orders ahead of fast-moving wildfires, but some First Nations are standing their ground, successfully protecting their homes and property.

There are about 1,000 residents on the reserve, but Alphonse said only about 300 stayed to fight the fires.

BC Wildfire Service chief information officer Kevin Skrepnek said there had been a slight reprieve in the weather forecast with some rain expected, bringing relief to the windy, hot and dry conditions fuelling nearly 200 fires and displacing more than 14,000 people.

Crews took advantage of calmer conditions Wednesday to make progress on fire guards near Williams Lake, where 10,000 people remain on evacuation alert.

With improved conditions, Alphonse said he finally had a moment to reflect on the three days of firefighting without the aid of power or telephone service.

He said Mounties told them to evacuate last weekend and the conversation quickly became heated.

As chief, he said his signature is required to enforce the evacuation order on the reserve, which he chose not to authorize.

Robert Turner of Emergency Management BC said Alphonse was correct. First Nations have the authority to issue their own evacuation orders for their territory.

“They would hopefully be taking advice from the same experts as a local government,” he said.

Alphonse said many in the community wanted to stay behind to fight and they have trained firefighters, access to heavy equipment and emergency plans to evacuate if they lost the battle with the fire.

He said an officer threatened to have the Ministry of Children and Family Services “remove all the children.”

Tempers flared and Alphonse said he suggested their own roadblocks would keep the Mounties out and if that didn’t work, perhaps warning shots above their heads would.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau said in a statement Wednesday, “as far as the comments made by Chief Alphonse, we do not believe the comments made are reflective of the recent and continued meetings and conversations we have had with the chief.”

The RCMP’s responsibility is to “advise the public that there has been an order and advise them of the risk associated with staying,” Linteau told reporters on a conference call.

“Of course, if the person has the ability to make their own decision and they are over the age of 19, we will not force them to leave the home,” she said.

But she said if there are children under 19 at risk, police are required to move them to a safe location. No children have been removed by the RCMP to date, she added.

Alphonse disagrees that officers were trying to protect their children.

“The safest place for our kids is here with their families under the supervision of the leadership of this community,” he said.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said Indigenous Peoples have a fundamental right to make decisions about protecting and defending the safety, health and well-being of their community.

“If and when houses and band infrastructure are lost to these fires, it will take years to rebuild and we fear in many instances the homes and infrastructure may never be built,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said in a statement that the department is working with Emergency Management BC and First Nations to make sure the communities are supported.

B.C. Forest Minister John Rustad told radio station CHNL that the province was concerned about the situation.

“People are staying behind, they want to fight for their homes. That poses a very serious problem. We know these fires can be very, very volatile and can change at a moments notice,” Rustad said.

Ultimately, Alphonse said staying was the right decision and it saved at least 10 homes.

The chief of the Bonaparte Indian Band north of Ashcroft said they also defied an evacuation order over the weekend and successfully stopped flames from overrunning their reserve.

“My community has some really skilled firefighters, like a lot of First Nations reserves, and they came together and they stopped that wildfire from wiping out that whole community,” Chief Ryan Day said.

He said 60 of the band’s 280 members stayed to fight the fire.

The community doesn’t have a firehall, a new water reservoir hasn’t been connected to their main supply yet and they don’t have a formal emergency response plan in place.

But Day said the experience of the trained forest firefighters in his community and access to heavy equipment contributed to their success.

“We weren’t prepared for it of course because it happened in a blink of an eye, but we snapped into action and everyone did their part,” he said.

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6 Responses to “Chief says RCMP threatened to call in child and family services if parents failed to leave community”

    Barry July 18, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    Are you kidding me. These people have been here longer then anyone. And handed down the knowledge of Survival.
    If the lawmakers had listend to the Elders This planet would be in better shape.
    The Chief did right in saying no to the evacuation of his people.they did save the land , good for you chief of the Bonaparte Indian Band .

    Judy Whitehead July 14, 2017 at 5:16 am #

    I’m a Eurocanadian settler descendant and I’m thoroughly ashamed of many forms of exploitation imposed on First Nations, including residential schools. But this latest incident is especially disturbing. Why? 1. There was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission: whatever its merits or demerits, it was reported widely in the mainstream press. There is no excuse for RCMP members NOT TO KNOW about this history and the intergenerational trauma it caused. They cannot plead ignorance. 2. Some ranchers in 100 Mile House are also staying behind to protect their lands, homes, and animals. They were not threatened with their children being taken away. So: Blatant discrimination. 3. In the quote above, Annie Linteau was responding to a reporter’s question yesterday. This was 3 days after the Sunday altercation. She had 3 whole days to think about it, modify her position, sound more conciliatory, etc. The reporter asked a second question, ‘Does this incident change the way you may interact with FN?’ Answer: No. Her ignorance and arrogance is thus deeply held; she should be replaced immediately. This type of attitude in the midst of major disasters will, I hope, be challenged. And I believe that First Nations are doing the right thing by staying behind. White settler, capitalist society has a long history of using disasters to dispossess more vulnerable people, e.g. African-Americans losing their homes in New Orleans after Katrina; they never got them back, as New Orleans became gentrified by real estate developers. If there is any protest about this issue, I would like to be there.

    Gerald McIvor July 14, 2017 at 3:46 am #

    Point to ponder folks….

    The Indigenous tribes in British Columbia have been successfully fighting forest fires before even Christianity was invented…The Indigenous People know their territories and they know exactly what to do in any scenario. These were all lessons taught by the Creator when we were born with the land….all Indigenous nations had that ability right across our vast ancestral land until colonial civilization ruined us…

    Vikki Peters July 13, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

    The relatives or neighbours of the families should take the children with them! RCMP don’t continue with breaking up our families! To serve and protect! You are in our Territories! Honor and Respect INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF CANADA! It takes a Community to raise a child…

      Elmer Billy July 13, 2017 at 10:36 pm #

      I totally agree that it is your right to make decisions on your own land. But if you are unsuccessful in controlling the fire and children die…your nation wears it. Don’t finger point after the fact.

    Marvin July 13, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    Evacuation orders are not about safety .. they are about money, power and control, and fear mongering… money the province cannot spend helping people like these reserves. Fear mongering,by having the general population in fear of their future so when nothing happens the government can cllalim power and control by saying look what we saved for you and the population gives them more power and control for their heroic actions when in reality the government did .. little to save anything and purposely disrupted lives unnecessarily.