The Peters Band Council has been ordered to accept the applications of two siblings, whose father is a member. (Peters Band photo)

Court orders Hope-area First Nation council to accept long-contested memberships

Federal judge rules Peters Band Council acted “irrationally, unreasonably” in rejecting applications

A Federal Court judge issued a scathing review of a Hope-area band council Friday (Feb. 21) while settling a years-long conflict regarding two membership applications.

The Peters First Nation Band Council has been refusing membership to two children of one of their members, Robert Dwayne Peters, with documents dating back as far as 2016. But on Friday, Justice Robert Barnes ordered the council to take all steps necessary to grant full band memberships to both parties.

The children, Amber Ragan and Brandon Engstrom, are now both adults (ages 24 and 28 respectively). Most recently, council had refused their applications on the basis that the children needed both parents’ approval. But the band council’s own requirements for membership don’t specify the approval of both parents. Membership is available to “everyone who is a natural child of a parent whose name is registered on the band list.”

READ MORE: First Nations women finally to be treated equally under Indian Act: Bennett

Peters is named on the band list. The band also argued that adult children can’t apply to be members. The judge was not satisfied with that argument, and he said the evidence provided that failed to prove it was custom was not substantive.

“The inference I draw from the evidence before me is that council has strayed far beyond its allowed mandate and has used an unjustified and evolving array of excuses to evade its obligations to Mr. Engstrom and Ms. Ragan,” Barnes wrote in his decision.

“I am satisfied on the record before me that council has acted unlawfully, unfairly and in bad faith in rejecting the applications.”

In ordering the band council to accept the applications, he added that it has “repeatedly shown itself to be unfit to decide these matters and there is no reasonable expectation that fairness and reason will now prevail.”

The Peters First Nation is a small independent band of 66 members, 27 of which currently live on reserve and the remaining living off. While the judge says he did not use his feelings on the band’s motivation for refusing the siblings’ applications, he did suggest it was based on greed.

Barnes wrote that the band’s misinterpretation of its own eligibility requirements was invalid, “and that what actually motivated the decision was an unwillingness to share band resources.”

READ MORE: Government settles land claim for Seabird reserve gaffe


 

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