Emotions poured outside the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s administration office on March 31 as demonstrators rallied against rising evictions.
“We are the people of Tla-o-qui-aht. We should not have to beg for our needs. We should not have to beg, especially in our territory,” the group’s spokesperson Dennis Manson told the Westerly News during the demonstration. “We should be treated as Tla-o-qui-aht, not like animals, we’re not animals. We’ve come to deal with this in the proper way, not to raise a stink, but we need to get this resolved because it’s not right. Where is our teachings within our council?”
About 15 TFN members held signs demanding that evictions be reversed and for leadership to listen to and respect their concerns.
‘We’d like acknowledgement for all Tla-o-qui-aht members from elected chief and council,” read a sign held by Jackie Coon.
Coon told the Westerly News that both she and her 30 year-old daughter, who struggles with disabilities, were recently forced to leave their home in Ty-Histanis after spending the past year fighting for their right to stay.
“Now, my daughter and I are pretty much homeless,” Coon said. “We need massive change within our Tla-o-qui-aht office…Right now, I am standing out here protesting, trying to fight for our people, not only my daughter, but our people. It’s hard. We have no support from any staff or council and I’m feeling so alone right now. I just want change within the office, right from the band manager down to the housing manager. We need to be treated fairly like everybody else. I’m hoping to see change.”
Manson said he had travelled from Port Alberni to attend the demonstration after being asked to speak on behalf of those affected by evictions.
“It’s really disappointing for me to hear what’s going on. Who’s controlling all these bad things when we are here suffering? It’s not right at all…We’re here so we can stop this nonsense because it’s not right,” he said. “There’s a lot of people being evicted within our territories. Tla-o-qui-aht is being evicted…I don’t call that fair at all.”
TFN leadership, including councillors and administration staff, came to listen to the demonstrators’ concerns.
“I don’t disagree with anything you have written here. None of it,” Councillor Joe Martin said, referring to the signs in the crowd. “I understand the social issues that our people have. Some people just didn’t pay their rent because of social issues and we have to work on those things. We have a lot of things that we are working on…We are caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s not been easy for any of us.”
Following the demonstration, Tribal Administrator Jim Chisholm told the Westerly that the evictions were due to rents going unpaid and arrears “getting out of hand.”
“When somebody doesn’t pay their rent, the band has to step in and pay rent on their behalf. There’s no freebies here. When people don’t pay their rent, they’re not screwing the government, they’re hurting our own band and it’s taking away from other programs: recreation programs, language programs, education programs. It’s a tough thing but, in our world today, people don’t get to live rent-free; it’s just a fact of life,” Chisholm said.
“We have over 100 families on a waiting list for a house in our community and we can’t provide those houses to our people, yet we have people occupying houses that aren’t paying rent and, honestly, the 100 families on the waiting list are prepared to pay rent.”
He added that residents behind on their rent were given the opportunity to negotiate a repayment plan.
“The last thing we ever want to do here is evict anybody. That’s the absolute last thing in the world we want to do,” he said. “It’s painful. We all understand the emotion of these people out here, but we’re in a corner, we have no option. We need to collect rents on those houses and we need to collect the arrears that are owing on them so that we can keep our housing stock liveable and affordable for our people. It’s a real dilemma. We understand the emotion and we feel the same emotion. I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that isn’t heartbroken when we have to evict somebody. It’s really sad.”
He suggested confidentiality restraints prevented specific concerns from being addressed during the public demonstration, but leadership and administration is “always willing to listen.”
“Our arms are tied behind our back when we go out in front of a crowd like that,” he said. “We’re contemplating developing an opportunity for people to come in, in front of leadership, in front of council, not as a group necessarily but as individuals. If they have a concern or an issue, our leadership are willing to listen to that.”