Ahead of the Splatsin general election on Monday, Jan. 10, the candidates for Kukpi7 and Tkwamipla7 (chief and council) sounded off on a number of important community issues at an all-candidates forum.
Video of the Dec. 22 forum is now available to view online and features Kukpi7 incumbent Wayne Christian and Kukpi7 candidate Douglas William, and Tkwamipla7 candidates Crystal (River) Johnson, Sabrina Vergata, Loretta Eustache, Edna Felix, Laureen Felix and Theresa William.
Moderator Dudley Coulter kicked things off by asking candidates what their goals would be for the next four years, if elected.
William said one of her priorities would be to secure funding for high-speed Internet throughout the community. She said she herself has dial-up and wasn’t sure if she’d make it through the online forum. William also touched on the need for clean drinking water for all band members.
“We have to rectify the high nitrate levels,” she said.
Christian, Splatsin’s current and longstanding chief, said the most critical item over the next four years is the comprehensive community plan, which needs to be updated. He also said giving people the tools for healing is important in light of this past year’s revelations regarding unmarked graves at former residential schools in Kamloops and around the country.
On a subsequent question related to health and wellness, Christian said the community’s existing wellness program needs to be expanded.
His resounding message was that different people heal in different ways, and community resources need to reflect that.
“I think with our wellness program that we have, we have to expand that, make it much more flexible so that people have access to it for the different things that they need,” he said.
On health and wellness, Edna Felix advocated for more space at the Shuswap Healing Centre in Sicamous for Splatsin people, “so they don’t have to go to Vernon where the psych ward is overcrowded or you have to wait for for hours on end. Have an avenue where people can get help as quick as they can.”
Health and wellness was an overarching theme at the forum, and another question took aim at drug abuse and addiction in the community and what to do about it. Vergata said she would like to see a rehab facility in Splatsin.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had with people who have addiction is that their hardest issue is getting a seat in a facility, and what makes that worse is them having to wait for an opening to get in there as well as the financial struggle of paying for that spot,” she said.
The question about drug addiction also asked candidates what they would do to remove illicit dealers on CP (certificate of possession) lands. Johnson, who owns a cannabis dispensary on band land, said she’s always made clear her intention to work with low-profile professional farmers “so that we’re not bringing a bad criminal element” to the community.
“My platform is about empowering the people and I think these people are lost, they need a hand up, and they need to look to people like ourselves at the table to understand that they still hold value in our community,” she added.
On a question asking how candidates would work to bring Splatsin out of debt, Laureen Felix said the last time she checked, the band had $900,000 in rent arrears (overdue rent payments), and said the community needs to open the door to more business on the reserve.
“We have all this band land close to the highway and really easy access to power, water, and we’re not jumping on the opportunity,” she said. “We’d rather just rent it out to farmers or have these billboard signs and get $500 a year for it, when we can start looking at more business opportunities for our community.”
Douglas William said more could be done to tighten cost control measures, especially by addressing the root causes of various expenditures.
“As an example I know hydro that we pay at the centre is astronomical,” William said. “We call in people every quarter to fix these systems yet we never fix the root cause.”
Eustache suggested that continued economic development and negotiating territorial revenues to be paid to the band would help in bringing down the debt.
“That would generate the revenues to support paying off the current debt in a quicker manner, and when you pay debt off in a quicker manner you’re able to lessen the long-term debt costs,” she said.