Non-members of the Semiahmoo First Nation who live on the waterfront reserve lands must begin the process of moving, after declining to commit to costs associated with connecting their homes to municipal services, SFN officials said this week.
“Unfortunately, nobody wants to incur those costs for themselves,” Chief Harley Chappell told Peace Arch News Wednesday, of the minimum $50,000 that the residents were advised they’d have to pay by April 30 in order to continue to live on the land.
“If people are not willing to incur those costs, then they need to move.”
Non-band-member residents received written notice regarding the costs and timeline to pay on April 2, however, Chappell told PAN last week that the conversations around establishing the connections began in 2017.
While a dollar figure wasn’t determined until last month, the residents were reminded last September that the costs “would be on them,” and that they should start to prepare, Chappell said. Everyone must be connected in order to begin the process of lifting a boil-water advisory that the reserve has been under for more than a decade, he noted.
Infrastructure upgrades, funded by Indigenous Services Canada – which Chappell reiterated Wednesday came with conditions, including that it covers only First Nation members – got underway last month.
Non-residents were given until an April 16 meeting to decide if they were going to “walk down the path” of contributing costs, or leave by June 15.
Since official word of the impending deadlines, non-members – as well as non-residents who have affected family members on the reserve – have told PAN the sum is out of reach.
“I’m on a pension and I’m old and I can’t afford to pay any kind of fees at all,” George Dimen said Wednesday.
Dimen, 75, said he’s lived on the reserve for 50 years and “I haven’t a clue” where to go.
Tanya Doell, a resident since 2010, disputed the band’s authority over non-members’ rights to stay, noting in an April 16 email to PAN that tenant agreements were with not with the band specifically, but with individual families who held the Certificate of Possession for the land.
Non-band members “have no obligation” to SFN, Doell added.
Wednesday, Doell said she and her partner, “as tenants, appreciated and understood how lucky we were” to have affordable housing. They paid just $450 per month, she said.
“With that… we lived on land that had no services.”
Doell described the connection cost as “a bad investment” for non-SFN members.
“We hand over this money, we still don’t have a lease,” she said.
Chappell told PAN that non-members on the reserve have been month-to-month “buckshee” – without a formal agreement – residents since ISC cancelled all cottage leases in 2008, and “we’ve been told your leases are on hold until (the boil-water advisory) issue’s resolved.”
“We’re really in kind of a cat, dog-chasing-its-tail situation,” he said.
Chappell described the current situation as “a very stressful and tense situation” for everyone involved. He said while the non-members’ decision this week is “unfortunate,” it “gives us a little bit clearer picture on how we work things out” moving forward.
“We know what the connections are and once we’re connected to municipal services, we’ll work on the process of lifting that boil-water advisory, then we, as a community, can move on to the next phase.”
Notices reminding non-members of the move-out deadline will be issued at the beginning of May, he added.
Doell criticized the band’s handling of the situation, saying accountability and transparency has been lacking, with respect to how tenants were treated.
“At no point have any of us tenants said we have a right to this land and a right to be here. But they sure could’ve treated us better,” she said.
South Surrey-White Rock MP Gordie Hogg said Wednesday his office has fielded calls from affected tenants, and he has reached out to Indigenous Affairs to see “if there’s any other options available.”
He’s also reached out to local organizations including Sources regarding assisting those who can’t find housing.
Hogg said while he empathizes with both sides – he described the situation as “very difficult and uncomfortable” for all – he said he’s “not sure that there’s any jurisdiction we have beyond” helping the SFN move towards infrastructure that will enable lifting of the boil-water advisory.