Hagwilget petition demands resignation of chief and council

·2 min read

Members of Hagwilget First Nation near New Hazelton are calling for the resignation of chief and council.

Elder Carol Eichstaedt, along with nearly 100 others, have signed a petition alleging Chief Cynthia Joseph and Councillors Jack Sebastian, Ron Austin and Kevin Pierre have taken it upon themselves to create undue harm and disruption to the community.

“The whole reason started right after the election in 2019,” Eichstaedt said, noting community members are allegedly being harassed and bullied. “Things started to fall apart, in my opinion.”

While Hagwilget First Nations Government (HFNG) did not respond to requests for comment, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) confirmed it is aware that some Hagwilget members have expressed concerns about their leadership.

Eichstaedt said the main reason for the petition surrounds the Rock Trust, in which HFNG has failed to adhere to the purposes established by the membership according to the petition.

The Rock Trust was established in 2009 after the Canadian Government agreed to compensate Hagwilget Village $21.5 million because their active fishery was destroyed when several large boulders were dynamited in the Bulkley River next to the reserve in the winter of 1959.

According to the petition, a work crew for the Rock Society was dismissed shortly after the election in 2019 without cause and new staff—double the number of the crew fired— were quickly hired, despite a shortage of work having been declared.

Eichstaedt said she was also heartbroken to learn several cedar poles that were planned to be carved were cut up and sold as kindling.

“It seems like every other week something like this happens,” she said.

“Hopefully, this all gets resolved somehow, and we have the peace that we had before.”

Hagwilget First Nation holds elections every two years per the Indian Act which does not provide for the removal of officials by way of petition.

A council member may only be removed by the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada for particular reasons when evidence has been provided, and after the council member has been given an opportunity to respond to the allegations made against them, an ISC spokesperson said.

Those specific reasons include the conviction of an offence, missing three consecutive council meetings without authorization or being guilty in connection with an election of corrupt practice, accepting a bribe, dishonesty or wrongdoing.

“The department has been in contact with Hagwilget First Nation and can offer support for facilitated discussions to resolve matters under dispute,” ISC said.

Rebecca Dyok, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Williams Lake Tribune