About 15 members of the Ucluelet First Nation gathered outside their government building in Hitacu on Monday calling for the resignation of the Nation’s president Les Doiron and director of operations Rhonda Knockwood.
“We’ve requested that the president resign,” Ucluelet First Nation citizen Jenny Touchie told the Westerly News at the protest. “He is no longer welcome in this community as we see. We have support from our Taayii Haw̓iłḥth standing at the door. They are ready and willing to walk him out of the community and request that he never return. That is traditionally what we have done when people are unwelcome in our community and we are at that point today.”
Touchie said citizens have the right to know what’s going on in the government and has been fighting for that right for the past two years.
“We have been trying unsuccessfully, for two years, to try and increase the level of engagement that citizens have in running their government and having a voice in their government. We have been constantly denied access to information,” she said. “We’ve been systematically silenced and we have decided that enough is enough; we need to do something.”
Doiron stood in front of protesters Monday morning and heard their concerns before leaving the scene.
He told the Westerly News he would “absolutely not” resign.
“The concern is coming from a very small number of our citizens, led by my own brother, who the majority of which were members of our previous government. This is a personal attack on me,” he said. “I was elected by the people to serve the people. Sometimes the right decision might not be the most popular decision. I am committed to making the right decision for every citizen of this nation. Even the few today who have a personal dislike for me.”
He noted the Nation’s Hereditary Chief Wilson Jack, who supported the demonstration, was temporarily removed from the position after being convicted of elk poaching in 2016 and is currently prohibited from representing the Nation at any level.
“It is extremely important to note that UFN currently does not have a Hereditary Chief,” he said. “UFN Elders made the decision to strip Wilson Jack of his Ha’Wiih title until certain requirements are met. He currently has no authority as directed by the Elders of our Nation.”
Monday’s demonstration effectively shut down the Nation’s government for the day, though Touchie said essential services like patient travel services and the community’s daycare would remain in operation.
She said the decision to lock-down the government building came out of a community meeting held Sunday night where Nation members expressed frustration over what they see as a lack of transparency.
“The citizens feel as though information has not been shared fairly, timely and transparently. We are concerned for the lack of traditional customary protocols engrained in our government as they should be under our law,” she said. “We have a lot of support from our elders and a lot of support from our hereditary chief and all of the citizens that don’t feel comfortable speaking up and being a voice in their community…We are trying to promote change and trying to advance our government to a position where it can successfully serve its community members.”
She added the recent firing of the Nation’s Chief Financial Officer was a catalyst for both Sunday’s meeting and Monday’s protest.
“We will not stand by and allow leadership and senior managers to run our Nation as a dictatorship,” she said. “There’s been a lot of questionable decisions that we have not had answers to…We’re just tired of feeling like we know nothing about what’s happening within our own government.”
Doiron suggested the circumstances around the CFO’s dismissal have been muddied by “misleading and inaccurate comments” on social media.
“We are prevented by federal privacy legislation from commenting on the reasons for our decision. We understand that not everyone will agree with all of the decisions of Executive and we accept that,” he said. “What we can say is that Executive acted within its authority under the Government Personnel and Interpretation Act provisions that authorizes the executive to appoint and/or remove the CFO. At all times we strive to make decisions that we think are in the best interest of our membership as a whole.”
He added his government has tried to be as transparent as possible.
“We have monthly reports in our Newsletter from myself, the Director of Operations, all members of the Legislature and all of our Managers. We have quarterly citizens Assemblies. We have an annual audited report. We have an FOI process if our citizens have any additional questions. There is no lack of transparency or communication from our office,” he said.
“Our people need to understand, we are no longer a band office. We are a Treaty Nation who now has our own Government; just like the Federal Government. And, we need to act accordingly.”