By MIKE YOUDS, Kamloops Daily News March 18, 2013
A group of dissident band members is staging an occupation of the Little Shuswap band office, intending to keep it locked up until their demands are satisfied.
“Until we hear from them, the office is closed,” said Rocky Tomma, one of a half dozen members who took over the office on Monday morning. “We’ll be here 24/7 until we know what’s going to happen.”
Only payroll workers were being allowed entry to the administration building to ensure that members would not be denied their benefits.
Chief Felix Arnouse was not available for comment on Monday.
Tomma read a prepared statement outside the building, stating that their main complaint is a lack of general band meetings.
“As a Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band member, I can no longer sit idle and continue to be oppressed by the leadership and the rules, regulations and policies that are currently in place,” Tomma said, accompanied by his brother.
He recited Section 15 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, suggesting their grievance is based on a belief that their fundamental rights are being denied.
Tomma complained that the last general band meeting was held before Christmas and that there was no provision for off-reserve members to mail in votes in the recent election, which took place Feb. 22.
Candidate nominations were held just five days before voting, he said. About one-quarter of the band’s 450 members live off of the reserve.
After only half of registered voters cast their ballots in the previous election, they were promised procedural changes that would encourage greater participation. There were no significant changes, Tomma said.
They have submitted two appeals of the election results to the electoral officer, asking for a new election to be held under amended regulations.
“This is only one step closer to accountability and transparency within our community,” he said.
In addition, Tomma said off-reserve band members are not kept informed of the band’s financial or business affairs.
Staff at the nearby Quaaout Lodge & Spa, a band-run operation, said that its operation has not been affected by the occupation. Others in the community didn’t seem to overly concerned with the protest.