Around 70 members of the Squamish Nation voted to fire their chiefs and councillors, along with the band's accountants and lawyers, at a community meeting this month.
The vote happened at what organizers are calling a people's meeting, separate from the general meetings regularly held by the band council.
The Aug. 11 gathering was modeled on a traditional governance meeting, said Jo-ann Nahanee, spokeswoman for the group Squamish Voices. About 110 of the approximately 2,500 adult band members attended, she said.
“It comes from a traditional meeting that we copied and followed to a T from 30 years ago, where we removed one councillor and attempted to remove another,” said Nahanee.
The results of the vote do not legally require the elected chiefs and council to step down, said Chief Ian Campbell. The next band election will happen in December 2013.
For several years, a group of band members has complained that the council has been unwilling to provide information about the band’s finances and management.
In 2010, the group held a protest outside the band office. This past April, said Nahanee, members were in the process of putting forward a non-confidence motion at a general meeting when Mazie Baker, an elder who had spearheaded the protest, collapsed and died two days later, putting an end to their efforts. In May, the group circulated another petition asking for the removal of council, which 500 people signed, according to Nahanee. That petition was submitted to the federal government, she said.
Nahanee refused to provide a copy of the document to the North Shore News, but a spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada confirmed the department had received a petition from members of the nation with “more then 300” names on it.
The chiefs and council have been working to improve transparency, Campbell said. Council holds between 50 and 100 meetings a year to keep the community updated on business decisions and community issues, he said, and in addition to sending all members a copy of the band’s audited financial statements, the band’s books are open to any Squamish member.
“They can come into our Squamish Nation office to review the statements in detail with our financial department,” said Campbell. “Any Squamish member is welcome to make an appointment with our finance department. It’s a little tougher when they just walk in off the street and demand stuff.”
Nahanee said that has not been her experience. “One, they say they’re not ready; two, they just don’t allow it,” Nahanee said. “They don’t return our calls, they don’t return our emails. They talk about an open-door policy.
“When we go to our band office now, we have to sign in for security. When we ask for those things, we just do not receive them.”
Security guards at the band office were a relatively new development, Nahanee said. She had “no idea” why they were there.
“Our community is not very healthy,” Nahanee said. “There have been, at times, drunken threats; there have been shouting matches at meetings, so I guess on both sides there’s fear, there’s reaction, there's shut-down."
Campbell said council had yet to receive written complaints from the group and had not been invited to the meeting.
“For me, I would like to know what some of the solutions are, what is it they’d like to see, what is their vision for the nation and how can we collectively as a nation work towards effecting positive change rather than destabilizing the nation,” he said.
Another people’s meeting will be held on Sept. 9, Nahanee said.