Kwantlen artist challenges band leadership to change

Brandon Gabriel supports a petition calling for change in how leaders are chosen for the Kwantlen

A prominent Kwantlen First Nations artist has endorsed a call for changes to the hereditary leadership structure of the Langley-based nation.

Brandon Gabriel, an artist and environmental activist, issued an open letter on March 13, addressed to Chief Marilyn Gabriel and members of the band council, among others.

“Indigenous hereditary forms of government are a legitimate and effective form of government that are to be respected in Indigenous communities,” Gabriel began his open letter.

But he added that the current system leaves something to be desired.

Gabriel noted that most hereditary indigenous governments have measures to instill accountability for leaders, and requirements for the free flow of information, and to ensure that not just one family has the final say in the matters of expenses and allocating band resources.

Gabriel is supporting a petition that recently gathered more than 30 signatures, asking for a change to some form of elected governance for the Kwantlen First Nation. Although that represents a small number of the total Kwantlen membership, which is near 300, it’s more than half of the adults who live on the reserve on Fort Langley’s McMillan Island.

READ MORE: Petition calls for end of hereditary rule for Kwantlen First Nation

The petition calls for a transition to a new system, with participation from on- and off-reserve members, the hereditary chief, and counsel, all consulting with the band membership to draft a new community election system.

Names on the petition were vetted for accuracy by a third-party organization, and then removed from the petition before being sent to the KFN leadership, to allow the members to remain anonymous, said Robert Jago, a KFN member and journalist who lives in eastern Canada.

The Kwantlen have a history of hereditary leadership, Gabriel said, but there was a mandate given to those who represented the community, by peers, clans, and families.

“My decision to take this stand was not easy for me,” Gabriel said. He shares the same last name with Chief Marilyn Gabriel because she’s his aunt.

Brandon Gabriel said he loves his family and respects what Chief Gabriel has done for the community.

But he wouldn’t be doing his duty as a community member if he didn’t speak up.

The original petition set a deadline of March 22, asking for the chief and band council to respond.

“If they don’t, I think there’ll be a lot more voices coming forward,” said Gabriel. “I don’t think I’ll be alone.”

Gabriel currently lives in Nanaimo, where he is attending school. He hopes to one day return to live on Kwantlen reserve territory, in Langley or Maple Ridge, he said.

After the petiton was unveiled, the Kwantlen First Nation leadership declined to comment.

• FULL LETTER

Open Letter to the Kwantlen People and All People Watching, Listening, and Caring:

Indigenous Hereditary forms of government are a legitimate and effective form of government that are to be respected in Indigenous communities. To those communities where healthy hereditary systems function, let their sovereignty by upheld and respected throughout the land. However there are obvious problems inherent in a skewed and misunderstood version of that form of governance that is in question in the Kwantlen First Nation.

In other indigenous communities where these forms of governments prevail, there are baseline measures that place accountability and limitations on those who hold those positions. These limitations come with responsibilities for the people who manage the financial, social, and economic well- being of the community.

There are also limits put in place that allow for the free-flow of information given to community members on such matters, and there are policies put in place that ensure not just one family has the final say in matters of expense, compensation, and how much of those resources get allocated to one single person, or a committee of people.

Hereditary Chiefs in other communities have succession plans in place that are not decided upon solely by one single person who has absolute authority and authorization to form and hold government, but are overseen and scrutinized by the entire nation. There are also rarely cases where the Chief and council have absolute signing authority for band finances and jobs that are guaranteed for life.

A fair system is being asked for by band members in the Kwantlen Nation, and currently that ask is being met with violent threats, and shaming of the people standing up for their individual and collective human rights.

Forms of lateral violence and secretive factions by the families of the so-called “hereditary” chief and her “hereditary council”, and members of their staff are currently taking place, and it only calls on more distrust, and the need for scrutiny from members of the Kwantlen community to speak up, and use their voices, and exercise their rights.

A petition has been drawn up by a committee of educated, industrious, well thought of, and well-informed Kwantlen citizens. It has been done in a manner that is anonymous, yet open, and gives ample time and thought by the Chief and Council of the Kwantlen First Nation to respond in a good way. The members wish to remain anonymous, for now, and rightfully so. The way some people are reacting to this is appalling.

As many of you probably don’t know, all previous attempts to reach out to the Chief and Council have been silenced over the course of the current Chief and Council’s 26 year tenure and have either been wrote off, or ignored, and this is the only polite way of going about this business in an official capacity.

The Chief and Council need to take responsibility and tell their people they have created no other form of ask to take place. If you support them and their mandate than call on them to use their so-called power to create a safe space for all members to be seen and heard in a good way. Do not shame your own family, neighbours, and other intelligent people and try and dissuade a legitimate and respectful process from taking place. I hear that certain members of the Elders Council thinks nobody else can take the roles of leadership but the current Chief and Council. Is that true? It is pretty sad if it is. It is your right to have that opinion, and so am I. But at this moment I am shut out of having a say in what I feel about your opinion. A very important topic that all members are deserving of being a part of.

It is not the fault of the people who signed the petition that these matters must now come to light. The people actively making this respectful process out to be villainous is creating a misinformed populace which only re-affirms the many underlying problems that this movement aims to address.

It is also disappointing that certain elders are the ones attempting to thwart these developments and then use their privilege to quiet our people. I won’t stand for it, and neither should anyone else. Especially our young people.

If I were the one on the other end of a shaming campaign for people to exercise their basic duties as citizens of the Kwantlen Nation, I would be embarrassed to be the person doing that kind of shaming.

If there were less likelihood of bullying and shaming by people who are expressing their rights to their opinions, freedom of speech, right to assembly, and the basic right to ask for accountability of these leaders, and to call out this version of this system of leadership itself- than they should have the liberty and right to do so without fear of reprisal of any kind.

I am positive that the sheer number of signatories for this petition would be much greater, had it not been for an active campaign by the employees of the Kwantlen Chief and Council telling band members not to sign the petition. Which breeds a level of anxiety in the community and sets off false alarms where band employees fear losing their jobs if they speak out or sign the petition. Or grown up dependant children of high salaried chief and council and staff members fear losing their lifeline to financial supports from the only high waged employees in the community so they also thwart a legitimate process.. Does anyone not see the manipulation that is in progress here?

Nobody is coming after anyone’s jobs, and the sky won’t fall if a growing and significant group of people come forward and ask to be heard. If the community is as in good of shape as the supporters of the Chief and Council say it is, than what is there to fear?

There are clear expressions of intimidation and reprisals taking place in the Kwantlen Nation, and those actions should not be acceptable and they deserve to be called out.

It is the responsibility of the current leaders of the Kwantlen community to ensure that peace, privacy, and the human rights of their own people be protected at all times. It is their duty to speak to the public and provide factual details about the community to appease the growing fear that people are expressing. Thus far, the silence of this band council just fans the flames of a now shocked, appalled, and concerned surrounding community.

You, our leaders, owe it to all of us to speak up and provide accountability, and every day that you don’t speak is the responsibility that is all on you. Not the people calling you out.

As for the backward and ageist commentary that is coming from the equally problematic Elder’s table, whose credibility is dubious, in my opinion- who make claims that there are no fitting leaders that are in the community to take the helm in the eventuality that there will be an elected chief and council one day- I find it sad that this is the message you are sending to your young people- You are basically saying they do not possess the aptitude to lead our nation, when they do.

I see the young people leading every day, including the whole generations of young Kwantlens who have also been alienated from the leadership table all this time, which is one of the many reasons we ask for a more sustainable form of governance. I hope all band members who are elders, and all adult aged, and our youth members also speak out and not be afraid to do so. Use your power.

Appalled,

Brandon Gabriel – kwələxwəlsten

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