Mould around the windows and rotting floors in the bathroom are among the conditions in which Chalise McCallum is raising her young son on the Semiahmoo First Nation reserve.
McCallum, 20, moved into her father’s Upper Beach Road house last summer with boyfriend Rodney Jacques and 20-month-old Kenai, after her father, Dean Dolan, died at the age of 59.
Dolan had lived at the house – a two bedroom on the reserve’s east side that McCallum described as “a total project” – since he was a baby. He had no septic or water, and relied on a wood stove for heat; conditions McCallum is now experiencing the impact of firsthand.
“I’ve only lived here a short amount of time and I can feel the impact on my health and I’m worried about my son,” she said.
“It’s unfortunate that one side of the reserve has got that stuff and we don’t.”
Some of Semiahmoo’s 93 registered members have been speaking out about conditions on the waterfront reserve since learning last July that their three elected leaders – Chief Willard Cook and councillors Joanne Charles and Roxanne Charles – were collectively paid nearly a half-million dollars in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Disclosure of the figures was mandated by the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
Chief and council have not responded to requests for comment in the months since. A statement issued in August defended the salaries, noting the majority “comes from revenue that has been generated on behalf of the nation,” and said the SFN team “have been working hard to bring in the money needed to build a strong future for our Nation and our people.”
McCallum and others, however, say they’ve seen no sign of those efforts or any indication work is being done to benefit all.
“We struggle… just to make ends meet,” McCallum said.
Darlene Clark, a member living off-reserve, said a house she bought on the reserve two years ago is still undergoing renovations to make it livable.
She said provincial grant money received by the band – totalling more than $3 million for the year ending March 31, 2014, according to financial statements – should be used to improve the nation’s social-economic development as a whole, including extending water, septic and garbage pickup services reserve-wide.
“That is… the very thing that should be done with that – upgrading for the well-being of the reserve, well-being of the people who are living in dilapidated homes,” she said. “We are all one people and it should be equality for all, because we are all family.”
While chief and council promised last August in a letter to members that they would be taking the time “to make sure members are happy with how business is being handled,” Clark, McCallum and others say their efforts to get answers continue to come up empty.
There have been no meetings, and “nobody can get ahold of the chief,” Clark said. “We’re always kept in the dark.”
McCallum said her calls are all met with voicemail.
Dolan’s brother, Darren, believes historical rifts between the families on the reserve are playing a role, but said it’s time to move past those.
“Why don’t we start fresh? That happened with my father’s generation,” he said. “What’s happened in the past is the past.
“We haven’t had any meetings, all we want is sewer and water, we want to have ongoing meetings with these guys to understand and clean up this reserve. Be able to live with these people.”