The Cheanuh First Nation (Beecher Bay First Nations, also referred to as Scia’new), located on East Sooke Road, has voted to modify their Beecher Bay Land Code Amendment to allow for development. As a result of this vote, the residents occupying the 125 campsites have been given a 30-day Notice to Vacate.
“The Band held a membership-wide vote on July 10 to consider changes to its Land Code that would prepare its lands for future development,” reads the Cheanuh’s press release.
“Our membership is in need of better jobs and housing,” Chief Russell Chipps said in the press release. “We are committed to creating a sustainable development plan that the Cheanuh people will be proud of.”
The first step in moving towards this future development is to close the campground effective August 11, 2013. The campground has 125 lots on it, and houses many permanent residents. Some, like Rene Patenaude, have lived there for decades and have come to call it home.
Chipps acknowledges that this decision will sever relationships with some of the campers.
When asked if they had indication that they would be evicted, two of the “campers,” Gail and Rene Patenaude (aged 69 and 74 respectively), said otherwise.
“None whatsoever,” said Gail. They did acknowledge that they knew about the upcoming vote, “But we still didn’t think that it would happen,” said Gail.
Her husband, Rene, has been a full-time resident of the park for three decades. His skill as a carpenter has resulted in the ultimate construction of a lovely, well-cared for “home” that is about 1,500 square feet in size. It began with a trailer 30 years ago.
The notion of dismantling their “home” and relocating within 30 days, has the couple a bit overwhelmed. One could say they are in shock. On July 12, the day after they had received the Notice to Vacate, the full extent of the impact had not quite yet registered.
“It’s sickening,” says Gail, speaking to her feelings of the situation, “There’s no sleep. We’re not eating.” Rene sat quietly beside Gail, his eyes brimming with unspilled tears.
Edward Ezako is another “member of this community,” having lived at the campground for 10 years. He is in a state of shock about how things are unfolding.
“People have lived here for 40 years, for heaven’s sake… My neighbour across the street has a house, he’s lived here for 40 years. There are people who have lived here for 67 years. And, like, we’re all blown away by the Chief’s proposal to have us get out of here in 30 days. We’re like in shock.”
Bill Mundie, a terminally ill 71-year-old man with cancer is also impacted. Half of the remaining days before eviction will be spent receiving chemotherapy, making the planning of a move nigh impossible. Regarding Mundie’s situation and condition, Chief Chipps said, “We are not animals here, and — you saw my sister here earlier? She’s (Sharon Cooper) been over there talking to him, and trying to see what he needs to, to um, be in or out. We understand that, what’s going on there and we’ll figure that out, with him, himself, not over in the middle of the campground. But she just came from there. He has a cancer issue. We know that. We’ll take care of him.” Sharon Cooper is sister to the Chief, and a key spokesperson.
Frustration from the campers also comes from the conflicting message that the Beecher Bay First Nations has allowed residents to build more permanent structures.
Chief Chipps said that in his time as Chief, he has only approved the building of one structure.
“I’ve approved one addition in my lifetime as chief and that was for one camper who was donating a boat… he said that he just loves it out here, and he knows that because Beecher Bay’s been involved in economic development since I became chief, and he always knew that I would be doing something sooner or later, that we would even have it taken down. And he actually asked me how much notification would I give him to tear it down and I said ‘Well I’d only give you one day.’ It’s kind of a sarcastic joke between the two of us.” According to Chipps, the camper was “fine with that.”
It might be the case that the chief has only approved one addition in his eight years. According to Edward Ezako, the approval process has always been through the chief’s cousin.
“We have always been told that we had to go to … to his cousin Mike. We have always had to go to him to get approval for everything that we have done. And he has approved everything that we have done.”
When asked if there was anything in writing to solidify his claim, Ezako responds, “There’s never ever been anything in writing, it’s a very… you approach him gingerly and you plead your case… Some people are allowed to build and some people aren’t. It’s that simple.”
Sharon Cooper maintains that in spite of its years in existence, the campground was never intended to be a permanent residence.
“This Cheanuh Marina has always been a campsite, and has never been a place where anyone is supposed to live. And at this time, there are people that actually do, we are aware of people that do live here. So we will be looking to clean up ‘stuff’ that people will probably be leaving behind.”
This includes buildings that range from sundecks and small shacks to “quite large buildings,” acknowledged Cooper. These buildings, she said, have never been approved and they need to be removed.
“The extensive developments have never been approved and people have always known that they are staying in a campsite. And anyone who goes to a campsite brings in a trailer, and can hook up their trailer and leave within a day.”
Residents offer a different view, saying that the more “permanent” structures on the campground had been bought and sold, with both the band’s knowledge and consent.
After a tour of their house, Rene offered to show a house that had been sold “about a month ago,” according to Gail. An expired ad on Used Victoria, posted on April 28, 2013, shows a “Cute rancher” at 914-4901 East Sooke Road for sale, for $89,900, complete with an oil-fired water heater, forced air furnace, a back up generator, and fully serviced hydro with metre.
“I’ll show you where that lady bought this house for $80,000,” offered Rene, driving to lot 914.
To which Gail adds, “And they (the band) let her (Angela Whylie) buy it!”
The vote for the Beecher Bay Land Code Amendment took place on July 10. Of 179 eligible names, 90 band members turned out to vote. Seventy voted in favour of amending the Land Code, and 20 — including former Chief Burt Charles — voted against it. The amendment passed. On July 11 the notices went out. Residents of the campground have 30 days to vacate.
“As of August 12th, 2013,” reads the Notice to Vacate, “any items left on the property will be deemed to be the property of Beecher Bay First Nation.”
“July 10th we had a Lands Management Ratification vote,” said Chief Chipps. “And it’s to move forward on a development that we are building right now with … (Trust for Sustainable Development). In order to meet the targets that we’re shooting for, we have to put out our eviction notices, yesterday.”
TSD is a “trust for sustainable land development” as per their website, tsd.ca. It is headed up by David Butterfield, who has also been involved in other local projects like the re-development of Shoal Point in Victoria.
“As soon as the deadline comes, we’re going to start preparing the land for our future developments, our potential future developments that are happening,” said Sharon Cooper. “So once the deadline comes, we’re going to have to do a bit of clean up that’s going on, and that’s going to take some time.”
The notice also indicates that a relocation coordinator is available, as is a storage location for items that cannot be moved within the allowable time.
When asked about what they hoped to accomplish with a new development, Chief Chipps emphasized the need for future development that will, in the long term, benefit the band.
“We want to grow. And the campsite we have right now, the way it exists, is not going to allow us to grow. It’s not going to give us a sustainable future for our children. We need to make sure that they’re covered,” said the Chief.
Two band members supporting the development, Junior Chipps and Louise Charles, reinforced the chief’s perspective.
“It’s not like it’s a surprise,” said Junior, “everybody knew about it.”
Junior reiterated the temporary nature of the campsite and that it was never meant for permanent residence. “There’s no sewage, just a silly little hose running around for water for everybody.”
Over and over again, the residents stated that the problem isn’t so much that they are being asked to leave; it’s about the 30-day timeline.
The senior couple, Rene and Gail Patenaude, said as much. Ideally, said Gail, they would like to get the timeline extended.
“We know we have to go,” Gail said, “but we can’t find a place in 30 days”
They can’t sell the house to the reserve. “They said, they’re just going to take it over,” said Gail.
At the press conference on July 12, a CFAX reporter said to the Chief that the campers were asking for more time. Chipps responded, “I don’t know if you understand how hard this is to do to people I consider friends, and do I want to do it overand over again? No. No, I feel the pain for doing it right now is too much.”
The reporter then rephrased the question, stating that a one-time notice giving the campers, say, three months, Chipps responded, “I wish it was my choice, but if you turn around and look on the wall there, there is a vote and the choice has been taken from me. We’ve been mandated to carry on with our development.”
When pressed that the vote did not reflect the amount of time given, Chipps responded, “We have targets.”
When asked if a contract had been signed with the developer, Chief Chipps admitted, “No, we don’t have a definitive agreement.”
“Our long-term vision it to get sustainable development in order for our children to live and grow, when Treaty comes around, if we do and when we do sign the treaty, that we’re prepared. We notice that a lot of treaties seem to be more valued if there is economic development on the community,” said Chipps. The intention is to enter into a partnership with the developer (TSD, with David Butterfield) that is owned 51 per cent by Beecher Bay.
The duration of the contract, and the number of proposed units have not yet been definitively determined yet.
A separate vote will take place on the actual development plan, which has yet to be drafted.