A group of Hagwilget First Nation members, citing empty promises and bullying, have blocked the entrance to the administrative office in their community between New Hazelton and Old Hazelton in an attempt to force the resignation of chief councillor Cynthia Joseph.
They say the blockade, which began July 4, is the last step of nearly two years of trying to work with the council which was elected in 2019.
According to members, there has been only one community meeting and that took place in the fall of 2019, shortly after band council elections.
In a press release, the group says the band name was changed from Hagwilget Village Council to Hagwilget First Nations Government without consulting the band’s membership.
“The name change is the tip of the iceberg of the actions that members have endured under this current tenure which includes elders and members being kicked out of their homes, members having their homes barged into with no consent, denied services, and the move of their trust fund without community consultation,” the release added.
One of the organizers, Tamara Murrell, said there is even now a threat to community safety.
“Radios were taken from first responders, and the fire chief was let go which leaves the nation unprotected for fire and medical services that were previously available for the safety of the community for decades,” she said.
“Not only were the first responders and fire chief let go, but the chief has also told the neighbouring town of New Hazelton that their fire services were not allowed onto the reserve which makes the members more vulnerable and left without emergency services.”
The administrator for the New Hazelton Volunteer Department confirmed there is no mutual aid agreement in place, and therefore could not legally respond to a call for help, should one come.
In addition to Joseph’s resignation, the group wants new elections conducted by a third party and held under Indigenous Services Canada guidelines.
“Until this happens the Hagwilget members will continue to blockade access to the Hagwilget Administration Building,” said Murrell.
Hagwilget members have previously petitioned for the chief and council to resign in the fall of 2020 and again this past June.
“Our peaceful protest is the last resort for members to stand up for our community and demand an election,” said Murrell.
Joseph has not responded to attempts to make contact.