A lot of work is underway to assist members of Cowichan Tribes, according to Chief William Seymour.
Seymour said the band is currently working toward greater autonomy in jurisdictional and legislative matters that is intended to allow Cowichan Tribes to have more of a say in many of the band’s issues.
He said Cowichan Tribes is one of three First Nations in B.C. that was recently chosen by the province to begin a process of beginning to take over some of these responsibilities, and believes it will have a positive impact on band members.
“We are now having regular meetings with the province and the federal government, and we’re working together to see this happen,” he said.
“But several aspects of this process could take up to five years to complete.”
Seymour was responding to concerns that were raised at an attempted blockade of the band’s offices by some members of Cowichan Tribes in Duncan on Oct. 4.
Sam Wilson, a spokesman for the couple of dozen band members who participated in the protest, had said there is a “serious failure of fiduciary duty” to Cowichan Tribes members by council, and they are living in a crisis situation as a result.
He said the protesters were demanding to see all the band’s financial statements.
Wilson also said there are concerns around children being seized from families, the issue that many land owners in the band are being pushed off their properties even though they have certificates of possession for the land, inadequate housing and ongoing unemployment among band members.
Seymour said the Child and Family Services department that operates on the reserve operates under governmental guidelines, but the band tries to ensure the children taken from homes are not sent far and wide.
“The safety of our children comes first and our first choice is to have them go to other family members,” he said.
“We are working with the families and applied for funding for more staff and resources to ensure that, unless the children are in serious danger in their homes, then they can stay there. We’re looking at changing some of these ministry policies when we are more in charge of our own legislative and jurisdictional issues. I can’t discuss the individual reasons why the children were taken from their homes because the files are confidential and I can’t discuss them.”
As for band members being pushed off their legally owned properties, Seymour said he knows of no such actions.
“We respect certificates of possession and I have no idea why that has come up as an issue,” he said.
Seymour said dealing with housing issues is a slow process, but work is ongoing.
He said the band has been meeting with banks regarding interest rates and other issues around band members.
“A lot of banks won’t give our members mortgages on reserve land because they can’t have the option of coming onto the reserve and take it away [in the event of a default], as they would outside the reserve,” he said.
“We’re looking at a number of different scenarios to deal with our housing issues, including building apartment buildings and townhouses, and we’re costing them out. One question is if we finance any of these projects through the banks, how long do we have to repay the loan? It has to come at a low cost.”
Seymour said another housing issue is the number of homes on the reserve that are boarded up due to mould issues.
He said Cowichan Tribes has recently come to an agreement with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in which the department agreed to pay 80 per cent of the costs of the mould removal and clean up of the homes.
“We’re hoping to have someone hired to assess these homes soon,” Seymour said.
As for unemployment issues, Seymour said the band does have a small department that assists members train for and find employment.
But he said it’s currently a one-person department when two or three people are needed to meet the band’s needs.
However, he pointed out a number of employment opportunities that band members have taken advantage of recently, including waste-energy projects, forestry work, and forest fire crews.
“We had nine crews working during the forest fire season this year, with each having up to eight people on a crew,” he said.