Today, the members of Alberta’s Samson Indian Reserve are voting on a referendum that would allow the Chief and council to have residents of the reserve ejected if presented with a petition signed by 25 residents. It is understandable how people in Hobbema are getting desperate. The reserve is a virtual war zone with violent crime levels that rival any major city and conditions continue to get worse. Gang violence has been exploding and shootings have become rampant. Make no mistake though, empowering the Chief and council to eject people from the reserve is not the solution!
For some background, the Samson is one of four bands that make up the reserves surrounding Hobbema. Infighting and corruption have led to many reserves such as this and the Stoney for example to keep splitting into more reserves within reserves. The fighting, waste and duplication of services caused by this trend is fodder for a whole different posting.
The Hobbema reserves are likely the richest in all of Canada having received hundreds of millions of dollars in energy revenues on top of typical federal transfers. The affluence considered to be largely at the root of many of the reserves social problems according to one councilor here. I don’t doubt that Saddleback is right on many counts. Poverty however tends to lead to crime and social problems just as effectively as prosperity. The problem as usual comes down to the utter failure of the entire Indian reserve concept.
The Samson reserve also holds a strong reputation for corruption on the part of their band leadership. Jean Allard documented it very well on page 144 here. People lived in poverty while the band leadership pulled in 6 figure salaries and more. This is unfortunately common on many reserves. Much more recently questions were asked about the disposition of funds to that reserve (with few answers).
The concept of self-government was a well meaning but terribly naive concept that has only led to the fast evolution of corrupt fiefdoms across Canada. There are certainly are some band councils that have only the well being of their members in mind with their actions. Many more reserves however have had the bandits rise quickly to the top forming small local dictatorships where band resources get directed to the connected while others live in abject poverty. Tales of intimidation and electoral rigging in band elections are unfortunately common.
In light of this, it is very clear that the last thing that the Samson reserve (or any other reserve for that matter) should do is empower their Chief and council to eject members from the reserve.
I strongly suggest that people read the proposed bylaw in detail and see how terribly flawed this document is.
With an extremely low bar, a petition of only 25 people is all that is required to start the ejection process. That is a very small number for a council to round up should they want to. This allows people to petition based on any sort of whim as well. Anybody who has spent time on reserves knows that they are unfortunately hotbeds of gossip and internal squabbling. It is very easy to see how mobs will begin targeting people they suspect with petitions based on little to no evidence of wrongdoing. All of the final say is based on the opinion of 2/3 of council.
There are some conditions in petitioning that appear to set a fair bar in expecting some proof of criminal activity in order to start the process. Unfortunately the statement below allows for easy abuse.
“(d) there are reasonable grounds to believe that the presence of the person on the reserve presents or would present a danger to the health or safety of the community.”
The term “reasonable grounds” is a very subjective term. The bylaw calls for the appointment of a “Registrar of Residents” and a “Residency Tribunal” of three people to oversee the system.
Outcomes determined by the aforementioned appointees will be presented to the Chief and Council for consideration when a person is being considered for eviction from the reserve.
The bottom line is that the entire authority to evict residents lands directly on the Chief and Council. They will appoint everybody else in the process and only need a 2/3 vote to evict.
Should as many as 2/3 of the council happen to be a little corrupt, look at how grossly empowered they are now. People can be targeted in areas that did not vote for them in the last election. People who speak up can be evicted. People can be evicted on a whim to make room for friends to move into the residences. As with so many bylaws on reserves, there is simply no means of oversight or control to keep the law from being abused by those in authority.
Children as young as 13 years of age can be evicted on a whim by the Chief and Council under this law. That very well could be an effective way to get rid of an entire family as many mothers would of course go with their children.
There are some huge issues facing Hobbema and reserves all over Canada. Further empowering band councils like this is not the solution. All this is doing is risking a small scale civil war on the reserve.
I do hope that the residents are wise enough to reject this concept in today’s vote. The citizens are frightened and desperate however and I fear that they may vote in favor of this without realizing the potential consequences.
Think of it this way, would you like to see Calgary’s city council empowered to fully eject you from the city with no compensation based only on the opinion of 2/3 of them? I know that I haven’t exactly endeared myself with Calgary’s council and I bet at least 25 people would have been more than happy to petition for my removal. Why is such a scenario out of consideration for the rest of us but may be acceptable on reserves? We can’t accept this for anybody. I hope that courts or somebody somehow intervenes before this disaster gets too far should residents choose this path.
I pray to FSM every day to see a light at the end of the tunnel for the natives on reserves in Canada. Sadly the light appears to be traveling in the opposite direction and things just keep getting worse.