A band council in British Columbia is trying to keep extended family from becoming members of the community because it fears having to share its pipeline money, according to Federal Court documents.
New members could also drastically change band elections that are already razor thin in favour of the current council.
That’s why the band council of Peters First Nation is asking the Federal Court to rule against allowing three people, who have status through Peters, to become members of the band.
They are also cousins of members of the band council.
The band council argues the three are just the “tip of the iceberg” as dozens more lay in wait to be members of the small reserve about two hours east of Vancouver between Hope and Chilliwack on Hwy. 1.
“It would mean that any monies received from the use of Peters reserve lands, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline, would have to be shared with a large (number) of people who do not live on, and have no, or very little, connection to the reserve,” the band council states.
All the people, about 60 or more, share the same bloodlines as the three-person council of Chief Norma Webb, Coun. Victoria Peters and Coun. David Peters.
The two councillor positions were decided by two votes and chief by four votes in the last election.
Just the group of three could partially achieve a change in power. But if the others, who are scattered all along the Fraser Valley, were to become members then the current council could be voted out.
“This would almost certainly have a dramatic effect on the governance of Peters,” council argues.
Victoria Peters, who has several jobs besides being a longtime councillor, including the band manager, health director and book keeper, stated in an affidavit that they will be “swamped with new members”.
“Those people would be a great burden to Peters who has very limited resources and no land for them to live on,” stated Victoria Peters.
What is a natural child?
Over 1,000 pages of evidence and arguments were filed in Federal Court in November to essentially answer one question: What is a natural child?
Peters controls its own membership as a Section 10 band, after the former Indian Affairs department approved a membership code in 1987.
In depth: Promise to dying mother sees daughter take on ‘rigged’ band council to bring her family home
The custom code lists several ways one can be a member, including the natural child rule which states: Everyone who is a natural child of a parent whose name is registered on the Band list.
But the band council has determined that to be anyone under the age of 18. If someone is an adult, despite their parent being a member, they are not automatically members.
That was its reasoning behind rejecting the membership applications last year of Guy Peters, 52, Brandon Engstrom, 26, and Amber Ragan, 21.
They filed for a judicial review as a group in December 2016.
APTN News has been following the membership battle since January and this is the first time the band council’s position has been made public, despite repeated requests from APTN for comment.
While this case has made its way through the courts, the RCMP has launched an investigation into band council for alleged misappropriation of funds and KPMG started a financial review last May following reports by APTN.
APTN reported that over 90 per cent of all funds allocated to band members went to those who vote for council.
Related: APTN opens the books on Peters reserve, finds questionable payments, INAC’s role in question
Guy Peters’ father is Robert Peters who is a lifelong member and one of the elders. Guy Peters’ brother, Dwayne Peters is also a member and the father of Engstrom and Ragan.
They have not asked for land as part of their case, but say they can inherit land from Robert Peters but first they need to be members.
“As the Applicants met the automatic criteria for membership, the Band Council’s Decision to reject the Applicants’ membership applications was an error of law,” they argue.
The band council argues it is allowed to make its own interpretation of the natural child rule.
However, the code doesn’t specify an age requirement. It does state that if the band council wants to amend the code it needs three quarters of the band membership to do so.
Since 1990, there have been no changes to the code.
“The scheme of the Membership Code supports the Applicants position that the Band Council has no discretion to apply other criteria. Under the Code, Band Council cannot change the Membership Criteria without community approval,” the applicants argue.
“In rejecting the Applicants’ membership applications, the Band Council acted outside its authority by disregarding the membership criteria set out in the Membership Code and applying its own membership criteria.”
The band council argues their rational of the natural child rule is “reasonable.”
“This is consistent with the practice observed by the Respondents and reasonable given the possible consequences,” the council wrote.
The consequences involve the loss of land, money and, potentially, power.
It’s not about land, but acceptance.
In 2012, more than 60 people applied to be members and most of them have status through Peters, like the group of three.
Not one was accepted.
Besides the group of three there are another nine with membership applications currently waiting for a decision by the band council.
One of those people is Carol Raymond.
Raymond’s father, Joseph Lorezetto, is buried in the cemetery on Peters, as is his mother and grandparents.
“I just want to be accepted,” Raymond, 74, told APTN in February. “If I am only recognized as who I am, that has always been my thing.”
She also has not asked for land and said she made it clear she will not.
But there is also the wife and children of Edward Peters, 75, the oldest member of Peters. The band council has refused to accept his family as members.
Edward Peters has land but can’t leave it to his children because they are not members.
The group of three hope to change that.
“The Band Council did not review the Applications in good faith but have instead focused on advancing their own interests,” the applicants argue.
A hearing is expected to be scheduled in the New Year.
“This is not a hard case,” the applicants say.
APTN’s complete archive on Peters First Nation can be found here.