Tensions mounting at Penticton Indian Band office occupation

The Penticton Indian Band has filed for an injunction targeting protesters

As tensions escalate on the Penticton Indian Reserve, band administration has made an application for an injunction before the Supreme Court of Canada targeting protesters who have occupied the band office since Tuesday.

Scheduled for Friday morning, the administration is seeking undetermined costs from the protesters, but it’s unclear from band officials if the injunction is also to have the protesters removed.

An update on the Penticton Indian Band (PIB) Facebook page Wednesday stated programs and services (such as health and daycare) would be cancelled until: “The (PIB) government has unobstructed access to the premises, ensuring safe administration of all programs and departments. The government supports its members right to peacefully protest. Obstructing access to buildings and telling staff and RCMP not to remove the obstructions is not considered peaceful.”

Citing safety protocol, administration took keys to the band office buildings away from managers and staff so “no undue pressure is placed on anyone to access them.”

“At present staff do not feel safe and will not be put in a position of risk. As the demands of this group have already been addressed, we hope this to take place as soon as possible.”

Another of the services impacted is payroll for those employed by the band, which administration says cannot be done remotely.

“Chief and Council attempted to engage with this group this morning and every attempt at constructive or respectful conversation was shut down,” said the news release.

“The Chief and Council will not meet with this increasingly hostile group. Continuous attempts to provide information and engage in a respectful conversation has been rejected and outright opposed.”

A similar occupation happened at the band office in 2001, lasting about a month.

Meanwhile, the protestors, who say they have no plans of leaving at this point, are demanding a higher level of communication, transparency and financial accountability with Chief Chad Eneas, councillors and administrators.

One of the protestors at the office was Nancy Gabriel who scoffed at the notion that there was any physical threat to administrative staff trying to enter the band office.

“Of course not,” she said about violence at the site. “Oh my God not at all, (Tuesday) there were a whole lot of grandkids here, a lot of kids, and last night I sat here till one o’clock (a.m.) and we just laughed and a few people came by and had coffee.

“It’s strictly for the media they state these things and I know the reason they shut the whole thing down and stopping people from working is so people will get mad at us, that it’s our fault.”

She added protesters would not stop administrative staff from going into the office to process the payroll.

One of the catalysts for the current occupation, according to a news release, by protest organizers is a lawsuit by former band administrator Brent Ryan-Lewis and a counter-claim by the band regarding his dismissal.

“It has become clear and evident that there is a misappropriation and mismanagement of PIB finances and band monies,” it said in the news release.

“The most recent news allegations of ‘fraud and dishonesty’ is shocking and … we demand a thorough investigation on both parties.”

Related: Former Penticton Indian Band administrator files civil lawsuit

Gabriel questioned rumours she’s heard about millions of dollars having gone missing and that the band is currently “$11 million in the hole.”

The band has said the concerns cannot be addressed without sufficient time for the new chief financial officer to complete his work and provide the necessary statements to members.

The accountability of chief and councillors has been under fire by the group since shortly after Eneas’ election in 2016, saying the band membership has been “ignored.”

As well, they say it was Eneas’ family members who were instrumental in the 2001 closure of the band office eventually resulting in the ratification of the Financial and Administration Law (FAL), which is what they are asking for now.

Related: PIB chief and council down to four

They say the current chief and council are refusing to acknowledge and adhere to the FAL.

Related: Update: Eneas elected chief of the Penticton Indian Band

“We were joking the other night, we should put out an APB (all points bulletin) on the chief because he’s been missing for about three months and he’s got an office there that he’s never at,” said Gabriel. “It’s been eight or nine months without any meetings or information, what are you guys doing as our leaders? We’ve heard nothing.

“We need to come together as a community.”

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