The treaty process divided families, and sparked threats of defection to other bands – but any hope the Sliammon First Nation would reunite once the voting was over appears bleak, with treaty opponents vowing another legal challenge.
The first nation, which has its primary reserve in the B.C. Sunshine Coast community of Powell River, Tuesday voted to ratify the treaty with the provincial and federal governments. With 615 people registered to vote, and a threshold of 50 per cent plus one, the band needed 308 votes for ratification. It received 318, or 51.7 per cent of eligible voters.
The ballots had barely been counted when a group of dissidents known as the Protectors of Sliammon Sovereignty said they would take the result to court. Brandon Peters, one of the group's members, said Wednesday that the group planned to point to voting irregularities. The group has said that people were permitted to vote without properly identifying themselves.
Last month, the group of dissidents forced the postponement of the final day of voting by blocking the polling station with their vehicles. They were in B.C. Supreme Court earlier this week to try to permanently block the vote. Justice John E.D. Savage said at the time that there was no evidence the voting process was flawed, but that there would be time after the vote to launch another challenge.
Mr. Peters said in an interview that the narrow result of the vote left him sick to his stomach.
"I look outside and I look at the view. … It almost seems like my country isn't my country anymore, my land isn't my land anymore," he said.
Of the 615 people eligible to vote, 235 were against the treaty, 61 didn't vote and one ballot was spoiled. Some votes were cast before the polling station was blocked.
Mr. Peters said he and several of his siblings – who have grandparents in other bands – are considering leaving the Sliammon First Nation. He does plan to stick around for the near future, however, because he said his people need him.
The treaty – initialled by the first nation and the provincial and federal governments in October – will now go to the provincial legislature for ratification. It will then move to Parliament.
The first nation has been working toward the treaty since 1994. It contains provisions for self-government, land and cash. The band will receive more than 8,300 hectares of land and a capital transfer of nearly $30-million over 10 years.
Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak said the vote was a clear sign that the treaty process is alive and well in B.C. She said the provincial government is close to agreements with several other bands.
Ms. Polak said it will be up to the group of dissidents whether to take the matter to court, but she's confident in the result and the process that was put in place.
Clint Williams, chief of the Sliammon First Nation (also known as the Tla'amin Nation) said he was not surprised by the threat of another legal challenge.
"It's just another thing we'll have to work through," he said. "It'll test the system here. As far as I'm concerned, I think the system will hold water and stand."
Mr. Williams said the hardest part of the process – aside from the personal attacks – has been watching families torn apart by different views of the treaty process. He said he's hopeful band members will begin to heal after a cooling-off period.
Mr. Williams said all he can do to try to fix the rift is keep the communication lines open. He said no one will be forced from the band for opposing views.
Mr. Williams said it was nerve-wracking waiting for the result Tuesday, and that he was in a state of shock when the vote totals were announced.
There's still a mountain of work to do, he said. It will take two years to establish the new government's laws and regulations.
He's hopeful, he said, that the treaty will create more opportunities for his people.