A residency bylaw recently passed by Samson Cree membership gives chief and council a say on who moves on to the First Nation as well as who can remain as residents.
On Jan. 4, 479 people voted in favour of the By-Law Governing the Residency of Members and Other Persons on the Samson Cree Nation Reserve, while 370 cast ballots against the bylaw. Approximately 2,500 people were eligible to vote.
Chief and council passed a resolution last October to hold the vote. The push to draft a residency bylaw came after two shooting deaths of residents over a two-month period. Five-year-old Ethan Yellowbird was shot and killed in his bed on July 11, 2011, and his aunt Chelsea Yellowbird, 23, was shot on Sept. 5, standing outside a house next door to Ethan’s. She later died in hospital. On Jan. 10, the RCMP announced that three youths had been charged with manslaughter, intentional discharge of a firearm and endangering in relation to Ethan’s death.
“We have to take over our community…. It should be safe for anybody anywhere in this community to where it once was with our grandparents,” said Councillor Kirk Buffalo.
The bylaw creates a Residency Tribunal appointed by chief and council which would deal with applications from people who wish to reside on the reserve and applications from people who wish to evict someone who “would present a danger to the health or safety of the community.”
Under the residency bylaw, any 25 residents can apply to evict another resident from the reserve. The petition goes to the tribunal, which in turn makes recommendation to the chief and council. A special two-thirds majority vote by chief and council is needed in order for an eviction to occur.
If the person to be removed is not a member of the Samson Cree Nation, then the tribunal alone can make the decision.
The RCMP are provided with “full and sufficient authority to enforce this by-law … including the authority to arrest and/or forcibly remove persons from the reserve who are not authorized to be present upon the reserve.” The person evicted must leave within 24 hours.
Eviction is not necessarily permanent. The person evicted can receive special permission to visit the reserve and may also apply to “have their residency restored if they can show a change in circumstances.”
The Enoch First Nation has had a similar bylaw in place since 2004.
“The overwhelming majority of the people have embraced it and do believe it’s done a lot of good to help get things … back on track where some people might have gone off track in their life. But definitely the safety and well-being of the masses have to take precedent over the few who choose to act out in an unhealthy way,” said Enoch Chief Ron Morin.
The bylaw, said Morin, is not about abandoning members, but about forcing members to take ownership of their actions.
“We want to provide for them, to say, Look, we’re not disenfranchising you forever, but if you don’t want to get back in a healthy way, we can’t tolerate that,” said Morin.
Buffalo expressed a similar viewpoint in an earlier interview with Sweetgrass, stating that people who are hurting need to “make a choice” and take the help that is already available on the Samson Cree Nation, such as daily or weekly smudging, sweatlodge, prayers, and any number of ceremonies performed.
“We need to get the message to people that they need to respect themselves, respect their homes, respect their families,” said Buffalo.
Passing a residency or eviction bylaw is not an easy decision for any First Nation, said Morin.
“It’s tough for some of them to want to go to that extent, because some feel like it’s a little bit far reaching or harsh towards those who are not in a healthy way,” he said.
However, Morin points out that the bylaw has created success stories on the Enoch First Nation.
“A number of those individuals who were in unhealthy lifestyles … have gotten their lives back on track and are doing good, went on and got education. We’re sponsoring them for that and (they) are living in a healthy way with their families. That’s really good. That’s the ultimate of what we want to do,” he said.
The Samson Cree residency bylaw must be reviewed by Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada to ensure it is consistent with the provisions of the Indian Act and regulations. It does not require ministerial approval, said ANAC spokesperson Michelle Perron. The bylaw comes into force 40 days after being reviewed by ANAC.