The one-lane road block of the Sexqeltqín Bridge in Chase leading to the Adams Lake band ended on Thursday, April 13, but not before an explanation was provided outlining the reasons.
Former Adams Lake band chief Nelson Leon spoke to the Observer about the “friendly protest” that began Tuesday morning, explaining ongoing internal issues and politics have been creating a divide between band members in the community.
“As a community, we are a family of families.”
Last week, band administration issued a news release regarding the road block.
It stated: “Organizers wished to voice their concerns regarding RCMP relations and internal political issues within the Adams Lake Indian Band… The protest is peaceful and Adams Lake Indian Band is closely monitoring.”
Leon said, as a former chief, he has received a few calls to help find a solution, “to put to rest the tension and animosity that is starting to increase.”
“I feel a heartfelt obligation to the people who still call, to initiate a greater awareness to our leaders and to our membership of the outstanding issues and, more importantly, to offer up some solutions for reconciliation.”
He noted it’s not an easy problem.
“It will take a number of community discussions but the ball has to start somewhere… I think it’s resolvable with communication and commitment both from the membership and the leadership.”
Leon hopes to hold a meeting to initiate a mechanism to start addressing outstanding issues. While the community is looking internally, it is distracted from its focus on the land, he says.
“A part of getting back to the key issues of Secwepemc title requires us to work together. And that’s my overall goal. To bring us back to working together. To deal with issues in a productive way and a respectful way and, more important, find the time to look to the land.”
He notes that issues on land and water will negatively impact people’s futures, so must be addressed with a united front.
Leon said his purpose is not to slam the current chief Paul Michel or anyone else.
“He stepped into the office with a lot of already outstanding issues that need to be addressed. His ability to prioritize and to demonstrate leadership is in itself a challenge. Having past experience, I know how hard it can be.”
Leon said it’s not about polarization.
“I’m not on one side or another. I’m on the side of the community that doesn’t feel safe anymore, that doesn’t feel like there’s somebody on the other end of the phone.”
The band has been struggling with internal governance for several months after three council members were removed from office, reinstated while they appealed the removal process and, in February, removed from office once again when their appeal through the courts was dismissed. A March 6 letter on the band’s website states the three councillors were reinstated again pending another appeal, expected to take place in May. Late last year former Chief Robin Billy resigned and Chief Paul Michel was elected.
Leon said he doesn’t feel upset by the application of the band’s election laws.
“What’s upsetting is the level of distraction from key issues that affect our future. Because it is a distraction.”
He notes when government changes, there’s a transitionary period and then a productive period. “And we haven’t even got through the transitionary period.”
The “friendly protest,” he said, is “not meant to shame, blame or create further division but rather to create a greater awareness to the membership, to the leadership, the necessity to resolve… that we are one people.”
Regarding RCMP relations, Cpl. Scott Linklater with the Chase RCMP remarked: “We are working with chief and council to work on improving community relations. We have a good relationship with chief and council and band members but there are always ways to improve. As for specific incidents or issues, we’re not aware of any.”