Kwantlen First Nation Group Votes to Release Chief from Band Council, Modernize Governance

Before I proceed with this recent news, I will remind my readers of the acknowledgement in my footnote bio below, that all of my articles are written on and/or about the unceded traditional territory of the Matsqui, Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo First Nations. I also want to disclose that I write this article as a respectful observer, with no Kwantlen or otherwise First Nation ancestry. I believe that the settled residents of Langley have a symbiotic connection to the descendants of the original inhabitants of these lands and should be aware of ongoing newsworthy events.

Importance of Kwantlen News

Despite honourable attempts of Truth and Reconciliation, those of us off the reserve continue to remain embarrassingly ignorant of happenings wherein and seem to be satisfied with the token land acknowledgements (see above) and ribbon cutting ceremonies. By ignoring the ongoing issues affecting today’s Kwantlen people, we can too often contribute to ongoing trauma of Canada’s First Nations. Although it took 5 days from the vote to get something in our local media, I’m happy to see that the Langley Advance Times has covered the most recent events.

Recent Controversies Demanding Change

I have been told by band members that the Kwantlen First Nation is one of the last “undemocratic” councils in the province. I honestly haven’t been able to verify this claim, but it’s obvious that there has been internal strife for some time. In June 2018, for example, despite being part of the Stó:lō peoples, Kwantlen pulled out of the Stó:lō Tribal Council which it had been a part of since its inception in 2005, to operate as an independent Nation. The vote on the resolutions discussed below are a direct result of a 2019 petition by Kwantlen band members who pushed for an elected government. The pandemic, among other political complications, repeatedly delayed this vote.

Between the 2019 petition and the 2022 vote, Kwantlen leadership has been rocked by several controversies, including an attempted secretive land deal between Kwantlen’s business arm, Seyem’, and then-Councillor, now Mayor Eric Woodward’s Fort Langley Properties/Fort Langley Project in 2020 (see here and here). This event itself had led to ongoing struggles with Seyem’ – the company was also responsible for the incredibly popular Lelem’ Cafe which claimed to have permanently shut down due to COVID in 2021. More recently, the Hereditary Chief herself was accused of physically assaulting an elder at an October 6 meeting, with the RCMP investigation concluding that there was “no evidence that an offence occurred”.

The November 27 General Assembly

On Sunday, November 27, 2022, 37 members of the Kwantlen First Nation held a General Assembly to vote on four resolutions by Brandon Gabriel, Robert Jago and another Hereditary Chief Robert Thomas that, when combined, could very well represent a historic shift for the Kwantlen First Nation.

The four resolutions were to remove Hereditary Chief Marilyn Gabriel from the Band Council (34-2), bring a new Governance Code to vote on within 90 days (37-0), to temporarily expand Band Council to 5 members (37-0), and to recognize the Whonnock reserve authority as a part of Kwantlen (33-1). They also elected 3 new Band Members – Christopher Thomas, Brandon Gabriel, and Victor Back – to the newly enlarged Band Council (I assume to join Marilyn Gabriel’s 2 members: Leslie Antone and Tumia Knott). Although a vote tally was available, I did not attain a list of attendees/voters.

When this new Band Council went to remove the Hereditary Chief from office, she refused and later claimed in a letter dated November 29th that this new Assembly of a “small number of registered community members” has no authority and that the “Hereditary Custom Chief and council did not call this meeting. The four resolutions approved by a mix of registered members and other non-members are not-valid…”. While maintaining her hereditary leadership through Coast Salish Ancestral Law, her letter stated that “we will begin to engage community members to review the governance code.”

Supporters of the recent Assembly use strong language, claiming that this is a desperate attempt of an “outgoing Dictator” to avoid her “impeachment”. Community advocate and journalist Robert Jago, who proposed two of the resolutions, requested federal Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, to recognize the authority of the new Band Council, concluding years of consultation and mediation. Recently, Hajdu’s office indicated she would not yet be commenting on the matter.

Supporting the Kwantlen People

I do not believe that it is the place of non-indigenous residents of the unceded territories to be involved with the internal politics of their Nation, especially by taking strong political positions. However, I do believe that we can be more than bystanders. We can be educated in the direct or indirect systemic causes of these issues and where our interactions and engagements have had unintended consequences. We have a responsiblity, in my opinion, to be further educated of the challenges of our First Nations can help us avoid being culprits of inflaming such issues and can help grow meaningful, non-tokenized relationships. The Kwantlen First Nation has a rich history of welcoming non-indigenous people to the region, despite our sometime abuses of this relationship, and continue to bestow us with rewarding cultural connections.

Further External Reading

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