The chief and council of Beecher Bay First Nation have agreed to extend the notice to vacate at the Beecher Bay campground, from the originally stated deadline of August 11 to September 1, 2013.
The campers, who had contracted the legal counsel of L. John Alexander, were initially requesting an extension of four months, ending on the end of November. This would have taken them past the next chief and council election, currently scheduled for mid-October.
On July 19, 2013, Alexander sent a letter to the Beecher Bay First Nations pointing out that the transitory nature of the “campground” was questionable as there were many residents who had lived there “in excess of 20 years.” He referenced English common law, and in his letter to the band wrote, “a person who pays half yearly in advance, becomes entitled to six months’ notice of termination.”
In a letter of response dated July 24, Melinda J. Skeels — the legal counsel for the Scai’new First Nation (also known as Beecher Bay First Nation) — states that application of common law is not applicable to the tenants at the Beecher Bay campground.
“In fact, it is the Indian Act which governs,” writes Skeels in the response. Calling upon the 1965 Regina v. Devereux case, Skeels writes that in the absence a “permit in writing” from the minister responsible, any written or oral agreement with chief and council to allow land usage to anyone other than a member of the band is void.
A 2003 paper written by Christopher Alcantara (Individual property rights on Canadian Indian Reserves) sheds some light on this reference. In 1950, non-Indian Harry Devereaux was given a 10-year lease on a parcel of land at the request of a Six Nations band member, with the approval of the Minister of Indian Affairs, as permitted by the Indian Act. When the lease expired, and after two minister-approved one-year extensions, the band passed a band council resolution (BCR) to evict Mr. Devereaux, stating he was unlawfully in possession of the land (the band member originally requesting the lease had since died).
“The Supreme Court of Canada decided in favour of the Attorney General,” writes Alcantara, “holding that since the expiry of the lease of the leases, the defendant could not point to any provision in the Indian Act which gave him lawful possession of the land (SCR 570). Therefore, according to this case, an individual non-Indian could acquire a lease from a CP holder in two main ways: through s. 58(3) or s. 28 (2) of the Indian Act, both of which required the consent of the Minister of Indian Affairs.”
According to the letter from Skeels, as per the Indian Act and the 1965 ruling, the campers “are in trespass on Scia’new lands. This is so regardless of any leases, of whatever term, that may have purportedly been made in respect of the land at issue, on behalf of the Scia’new or otherwise” as there was no Ministerial Agreement.
Skeels writes, “my clients agree that an orderly and reasonable transition to their new use of their lands would be in everyone’s best interest. It has come to their attention that vacating by August 11, 2013 may cause hardship to some occupants as it falls in the middle of the month. In recognition of this fact, as a gesture of goodwill and to allow some time for discussion between all involved, my clients have decided to extend the closure of the Campground until September 1, 2013.”
Skeels further states the band chief and council are “willing to explore the possibility of delaying the closure of certain portions of the Campground in order to, on a case-by-case basis, allow some of your clients (ie the campers) more time to make arrangements.”
The campers, torn between compliance, the need for time and, in many cases, abject poverty, are still exploring options at their semi-weekly meetings while simultaneously holding garage sales, mentally detaching from the community and seeking new residences.
The Beecher Bay First Nation is exploring a partnership with the David Butterfield of the Trust for Sustainable Development. A separate vote by the band members will first need to be held before entering into any contract.
Previous attempts by Beecher Bay First Nation to develop have been entertained in 2010, when Beecher Bay proposed to bring in a destination resort and casino; in 2011, a “Garbage to Gas” project; and again in 2012, when there was talk of a Fish Hatchery.