Caucasian woman asked to run for chief of Burns Lake Band

Northern B.C.’s Burns Lake Band may write a new chapter in Canada’s aboriginal history by electing as chief a Caucasian woman.

Many on-reserve members are urging Pauline Goertzen to run for the post next month, according to band councillor Ron Charlie.

“The community respects her, and the community thinks that she’ll be a great leader,” Charlie told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview on January 13.

A by-election will be held on February 11 following band chief Albert Gerow’s resignation before the end of his two-year term.

Gerow, husband of former B.C. NDP leader Carole James, quit effective December 31 last year to take a job with TransCanada Pipelines Limited, the company that wants to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to the U.S.

As chief, Gerow also endorsed exploration work for the Northern Gateway pipeline, an Enbridge Inc. project that will carry Alberta’s diluted bitumen to B.C.’s coast and is opposed by his wife’s political party.

James’s spouse has sued Charlie and other members of the Native band in a defamation case that has yet to be tried in court.

Goertzen is a lifelong resident of Burns Lake, the town outside the reserve. According to her, she has worked with the band and other First Nations communities in the areas of community development and diversity since she was 20.

She also confirmed that she has been asked to run for band chief.

“I look at it not so much leading but serving,” Goertzen told the Straight by phone.

She said she has yet to make a definite decision. “But I think I am, going forward,” she added.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will hold a nomination meeting on Wednesday evening (January 15). A new chief will serve out the remainder of Gerow’s unfinished two-year term, until October this year.

Although Goertzen is neither a band member nor a registered aboriginal, she noted that the Indian Act allows anyone to be nominated for chief.

Goertzen said she considers that a “loophole” in the legislation, and being able to highlight that and the condition of the community is one of the reasons why she is considering accepting a nomination if she gets one on January 15.

Asked about her thoughts on a Caucasian woman becoming chief of a Native band, she focused on upcoming tasks.

“I have a very specific mandate from the community to undertake in the coming eight months,” Goertzen said.

One of those tasks is to look into the “various industrial agreements” entered into by the Gerow administration. On-reserve members have been demanding information on deals made on behalf of the band with companies planning to build oil and gas pipelines.

Another is an examination of the community’s financial affairs, she said.

Goertzen is also keen on starting programs at the band’s Gathering Place, a large but underutilized community facility.

A community and land-use report released in May 2013 and updated last November by a consortium of consultants describes a divided community.

“The Band is currently struggling with structural problems that have caused opposition among members on environmental, social, political, cultural, and philosophical issues,” the report notes. “This is evidenced by ongoing acts of protest by on-reserve Band members and responses by the Band Council. Community-owned and community-member economic development cannot be easily prescribed or achieved unless measures are undertaken to ensure all Band members can secure needed information so they can participate fairly and openly.”

The consultants also state: “Ways need to be found so that members of the Band Council and staff have and are seen to have legitimate authority to act on behalf of all Band members.”

They likewise note that “unless some form of reconciliation of the divisions within the membership of the Burns Lake Band is reached, division of the Burns Lake Band into two new bands may be the final outcome.”

Former band councillor Ryan Tibbetts is a critic of Gerow and is one of those being sued by the former chief.

As the band prepared to pick a new chief, Tibbetts told the Straight by phone: “We’re hoping whoever gets elected as chief that there would be more…transparency, there would be accountability, there would be open communication.”

Comments (24) Add New Comment
Alan Layton
Sadly, I expect as the resources in the north are further exploited, that more communities are going to be divided between two camps.

I hope that James's spouse eventually drops his lawsuit so that the band can continue trying to heal without the added pressure. James's spouse chose to leave the position so he should also leave behind his past battles and move on.
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Shmang
The loophole was probably put there for times like these. If it is seen that a band cannot govern itself as it should, then AANDC will step in and insert someone they see as fit, especially back when they thought they had the wherewithall to do so. It was utilized to some degree in Attawapiskat, with the General Administrator being put in place there by AANDC. I think that if reconciliation cannot be reached, the splitting of the community into two groups is a bad choice. They will be expected to share the same revenues, programs, etc., as they did when they were one, and that will definitely strain the ability to serve their people.
I am not saying getting Goertzen to run for chief is a bad idea, considering the history of the situation, but, surely there must be someone from the community who is a member and recognized status holder. If not, they got bigger problems. Hope it all works out for the best.
To date, this is the best example of the 'divide and conquer' mentality of industry and government.
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Anne
For the love of humanity, just another example of aboriginal people not being able to manage their own affairs. What a crock of S.....
Tired of being passed over for the false belief that the WASP elite are much better than us!
Encourage, support and affirm your own band members so that they can step up to do the job!
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Hermesacat
I had no idea Carole James' husband was Gerow & that he was Burns Lake Band's Chief, & such a controversial figure, whose interests run contrary to James' espoused NDP policies re. Northern Gateway. A first nations leader who's a booster of Enbridge & its Northern Gateway project. What an anomaly.
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John
I have to agree with Anne, no matter how you slice it, this looks bad on the community, not being able to find a reputable member within the community first, does not bode well, going forward...come on, Burns Lake Band community members, surely you have someone to step up to the plate, young or old, somebody please, come forward, there are other young chiefs in other communities doing it, you can too...
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Morris
First, there is more to the story then what is being told. The on reserve people occupied their band office because Tibbits lost the election. What about the fist fights? And both sides have charged each other. Its not just one sided. Secondly, maybe Gerow did have the Burns Lakes' best interest at heart. Afterall, he did go against his wife and her party. Burns Lake will gain greatly if the pipelines go through.
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RUK
As a non-fan of apartheid so I don't like the idea of racially segregated governments in Canada, but as long as that's the law, we might as well respect the spirit of it.

It is not unusual for a band to hire non-native consultants to bring skills, contacts, or what have you. It's like having a male gynocologist. But to actually vote in a non-native band chief, not as an honourary title but as the real thing, is stunning.

Could there be a compromise - a way to 'naturalize' Goertzen as a band member as a requirement of office?

Otherwise what's the point of treating native Canadians in a fundamentally discriminatory way?
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cathy
Don't think a white woman can fix this mess.
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holy
Odd but hey it's their decision if they want a White Woman why not?

We are all part of the Human Race after all.
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confusing
The first sentence of this article describes Pauline Goertzen as a "non-status Indian," but reading the article it sounds as if she isn't Indian at all, which would make her not a status Indian, not a non-status Indian.
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Denise
OK Burns Lake, I sincerely hope that you all work together for the betterment of your people and environment. That said, this is media it has to sensationalize stuff to get our interest, we all overlooked one important aspect..."by electing as chief a Caucasian woman who is a non-status Indian." So she looks white but is Indian, so she has worked for years helping, she knows the issues and some of the Nation support her whats the problem? I am more worried about the Mill fire up there that killed two people hurt many, and no one is going to jail. Good luck!
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Martin Dunphy
confusing:

Thanks for pointing that out. You are, of course, correct, and the sentence in question has been changed to simply reflect the fact that she is non-Native.
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Outlier
@ holy:

Humans are a SPIECIES, not a race.
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Lawrence Boxall
We are all part of the human species and race is not a valid scientific concept anymore. However, there are the minority with money and power to take what they want from the majority with impunity. Enbridge is not the first corporation to attempt to pillage the means of livelihood of of a community like the Burns Lake Band for the sake of profit, and they won't be the last. When government acts to support the moneyed elite it often resorts to divide and conquer tactics.

The Burns Lake Band, like countless other indigenous people all over the world, has been impoverished over the years by successive settler colonial governments and the corporations they support. That impoverished people of Burns Lake are victims of a long history of privatization of the commons—the common heritage of all humanity and currently every effort is being made to get First Nations to buy into the private property paradigm with the promise of the economic relief that will be derived from private property. Historically, however, the only thing that ever happens is access to the commons is lost as a small elite group ending owning most of what was once shared by entire communities.

So if the people of the Burns Lake Band decide that Pauline Goertzen is their best bet for the moment to preserve the livelihood of their community and if Ms Goertzen has shown that she cherishes the well-being of the community and the culture of that band, to be concerned with her blood quantum numbers seems misguided to me.

At any rate I wish the band well in overcoming their difficulties, both internal and external.
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Redn Dying
have we not enough non native people telling us how to live in a world that is already governed, already decimated our true way of our path.
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Holy
@Outlier... who died and made you the authority on everything?

Within the context of what I was talking about (Race) I made that comment to make the point that regardless of Race we are all pretty much the same, that is Human.

Context dude context.

And if you want to get all scientific about it than it's not Humans but Homo Sapiens as a species.

Although lately some populations of Home Sapiens have been found with Neanderthal DNA mixed into their Homo Sapien DNA which suggest interbreeding.

You really should get yourself checked up for it since you exhibit classic Neanderthal behavior...:)

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Bitcoin
Hey Outlier,

It's SPECIES, not 'spiecies'.
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ml johnstone
does Carole James live with this man?
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Vancouverite
Why was this even in the Georgia Straight? I thought it was Vancouver's entertainment and news weekly, not northern BC.
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Band Member
Pauline Geotzen is a patsy. Those supporting her used to be in power and are too chicken to run for Chief because they know they will lose. Because of Bill C-3 and Bill C-31 they will not get back in power anytime soon.
While they were in power, for almost 20-years, they did nothing. No membership code, no election code, no housing policies, no Chief and Council policies, no programs, no band meetings, no transparency and zero accountability.
It’s all about the $.
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