Some members of a First Nations band from the Leamington area are raising concerns about a lack of transparency by band council.
Caldwell First Nation group of members held a protest on Saturday in Leamington, claiming that council continues to leave them in the dark when it comes to major economic decisions and investments.
According to band member Ian Duckworth, issues between the members and council have been a long-time problem. However, he said the concerns have come to a head because of several recent decisions.
This includes the plans to turn The Happy Snapper on Bevel Line into the region’s first authentic Indigenous restaurant. According to Duckworth, the membership was not made aware of the intentions for the restaurant until it hit the news.
"Originally it was portrayed that we were going to renovate the Happy Snapper," Duckworth explained. "That was the angle that was used, that they were renovating it. Significant investments were made into the Happy Snapper...Now that's been ripped down, what happened to all that investment? There are legitimate questions that need answers to and we can't get them."
More than 200 years after their land was taken from them, Caldwell First Nation attained reserve status at the end of 2020 for a 200-acre lot at the corner of Bevel Line Road and Seacliff Drive in Leamington to be used to establish a reserve for the Caldwell community. At the time, Caldwell was one of the three remaining First Nations in Canada without reserve lands.
Duckworth said there are long-standing concerns surrounding the lack of consultation with band members about the new build, including the fact that the renderings were done by an out-of-province company and that the homes do not meet the needs of the community.
Although council has sent several communication items through mail, Duckworth said progress has continued on major projects in the community without thorough engagement from band members and throughout the pandemic, when members are unable to digest the extent of the projects and provide in-depth one-on-one feedback.
"All we get are surveys," he said. "Surveys after surveys. Surveys are not proper or meaningful consultation. It's very narrow in scope where you're allowed to give your input. We cant give feedback at all."
Other concerns from the band include recent last-minute changes to the election progress.
Blackburn News reached out to Caldwell First Nation's Director of Operations for comment but did not hear back by press time.
According to Duckworth, around 20 people attended the protest. He said the hope is to develop an independent audit on council and the operations to ensure that decisions being made are sound investments and don't risk dwindling down the land settlement to something that cannot be managed by the band itself.
"We would like proper accommodations, more consultations and the main thing I heard from fellow protestors is no more delays in the election," he said.