Guy Peters always knew he belonged to his nation in British Columbia.
The federal government always did, too.
It says so on the back of his status card.
But for over 30 years the band council of Peters First Nation refused to accept him as a member.
That is until it was forced to do so last week when the Federal Court ruled in Guy Peters’ favour in a judicial review of his membership application that was denied in 2016.
Council had argued it was up to their discretion whether to accept him but that was “plainly wrong” according to the Federal Court.
The court ruled Guy Peters, 52, was put on the membership list in 1987 by the federal government as part of Bill C-31 coming into law to fix previous legislation that saw First Nations women lose status for such things as marrying a white man.
“The Band Council’s failure to recognize that Mr. Peters was statutorily entitled to membership in the PFN through the operation of Bill C-31 renders its decision unreasonable,” said Justice Simon Fothergill.
As part of Bill C-31, bands could apply to take control of their membership after bill came into effect. Peters First Nation did just that but then the late Frank Peters, the chief in 1987, refused to accept Guy Peters after the nation enacted custom membership code.
Only he wasn’t allowed to do so because people like Guy Peters couldn’t legally be removed, Fothergill ruled.
Peters First Nation is about an hour’s drive east of Vancouver near Chilliwack.
It’s a small nation of 11 homes and is basically one big family. The band office is on its only road: Peters road.
But one side of the family has controlled the band office for over 30 years, as previously reported by APTN.
There are many more like Guy Peters who were on the list prior to 1987 who have applied and were ignored or denied. There are currently nine outstanding membership applications that have gone unaddressed by council for over a year.
But what about the people who weren’t on the list prior to 1987 and want to be members?
The band’s membership code states if a person is the natural child of a current member they qualify.
But the band council also refused to accept Brandon Engstrom, 26, and Amber Ragan, 21., whose father is a member.
Their rejected membership applications were also part of the judicial review.
“It appears that the applications were summarily rejected, with possible justifications concocted only after the Applicants indicated their intention to pursue appeals,” wrote Fothergill.
The list of reasons varied from they were over the age of 18 when they applied, they didn’t have their mother’s written consent to apply or they didn’t submit their applications in person.
“These justifications were offered in piecemeal fashion long after the decisions (to reject them) had been communicated to the Applicants,” said Fothergill. “The Band Council provided no substantive reasons for its decisions to deny the Applicants’ applications for membership.”
Fothergill didn’t immediately make Engstrom and Ragan members but put it back to council to decide based on his ruling.
The band council argued the three are just the “tip of the iceberg” as dozens more lay in wait to be members.
“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 argued.
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 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 argued.
APTN has been following the membership battle since January 2017.
While this case made its way through the courts, the RCMP launched an investigation into band council for alleged misappropriation of funds and KPMG started a financial review in May 2017 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.
Both federal investigations are on-going.
APTN’s complete archive on Peters First Nation can be found here.