The Westbank First Nation’s government office in Westbank, in syilx territory. Photo by Aaron HemensAaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 18, 2022 at 15:49

By Aaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Westbank First Nation (WFN) Chief y̓lmixʷm Christopher Derickson announced his resignation as Chief on June 17, coming into effect at the end of the day.

In a press release, Derickson said that “the lack of competency, integrity, and moral courage” within the WFN Council, as well as with the departure of WFN chief administrative officer Simon Melanson, left him no choice but to resign.

“Fighting corruption and promoting accountability, integrity, and transparency was the right thing to do,” said Derickson. “But, it has taken a toll on my family and my mental and physical health.”

It can be difficult for elected Indigenous officials to go public with the hardships and challenges of living in a colonially imposed system, and any decisions to step back to honour their health and wellness. IndigiNews hopes to follow this story in a way that reflects on the overall strength of the people in the community.

In his resignation letter, Derickson says that in March 2021, 147 acres of land owned by the WFN was sold in “Peachland” in syilx territory. However, the transaction was “unauthorized” and the land was sold under value, he said. This prompted him to “hold this (WFN) government accountable.”

At Derickson’s request, Melanson launched an independent, third-party investigation into the sale. This investigation, Derickson said, was shut down by council. 

But some others at the WFN deny that allegation. In a statement attributed to the WFN communications department, the Nation said its council “unanimously supported an independent review of the transaction.”

Derickson said that he then spent the ensuing months working with “a principled few” within WFN and its government administration to establish a review of the land sale. The review was conducted by Marion Buller, who is a former BC Provincial Court judge, a former chief commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls​​ and current chancellor of the University of Victoria.

According to Derickson, the Buller report, “highlighted numerous gaps” in WFN’s governance. As a result, 16 recommendations for positive change were put forward. But he added that implementing these recommendations has “brought further evidence of corruption to light.”

“Independent appraisals obtained by WFN estimate that the unauthorized sale ($1.5 million) undervalued the land by at least $2 million,” said Derickson. “The report raises issues of honesty and integrity of certain former senior employees and of deception of the WFN Council and lack of Council fulfilling its duties of oversight and continuing accountability to members.”

In the press release issued by the WFN, the Nation said that after Buller’s report, council agreed to proceed with her recommendations.

“Over the past several months, Council has been overseeing the review to determine what transpired, implement the recommendations, and take the necessary steps to protect WFN’s assets,” reads the press release.

WFN councillor Jordan Coble was also quoted in the press release from the WFN. Specifically, he said that Council is committed to ensuring good governance, which includes open dialogue with Nation members, council and administration.

“Council thanks Chief Derickson for his service to WFN, and thanks membership and past leadership for the strength of the constitution, ensuring effective governance in the face of any change,” said Coble.

With a general election and vote of its membership scheduled for Sept. 15, WFN said that its constitution states that no by-election is necessary.

“We will continue to operate as an elected body making collective decisions in the best interest of membership, today and in the terms ahead,” said Coble.

IndigiNews has reached out to Melanson and Buller for further comment but did not hear back by publication time

This item reprinted with permission from The Discourse, Vancouver, British Columbia