By Steve Hubrecht
New Shuswap Indian Band chief Barb Cote and first-time councillors Timothy Eugene and Rosalita Pascal have been busy since the bands early November election.
We have so much going on at this time, said Ms. Cote. For me, the learning curve, its been the equivalent of taking a PhD in a whole range of subjects all at the same time.
Ms. Cote said shes treating the position of chief as a full-time job, and she and the councillors are wrapping their heads around not just band administration and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) programs, but also the bands role in various business, forestry and mining operations, as well as its partnership with other First Nations and other projects needing environmental or band input.
For me to understand what theyre all about is vast. Every day is a new experience, she said.
In the meantime, the new council has wasted no time taking major steps forward on several fronts. The Shuswap have hired an interim financial manager; will sign a service agreement with Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) covering municipal services; plans to expand the bands water system; have started an asset management plan; have initiated a Community Development Plan; are developing the bands land code; have an on-reserve housing project underway; are looking at expanding commercial business operations on band land; and are searching for a new location for the band office.
The financial manager (hired until the end of the current fiscal year in March 2015) is looking after a lot of the financial picture of where were at and what needs to take place to set priorities, Ms. Cote said. Were going to make good with the people we owe on some of the bills that have accumulated and then look at how we can go forward.
She said the new council has no idea where much of the bands AANDC funding went under the previous administration, but said AANDC is currently doing a scoping exercise to find out what happened to the federal money it directed to the Shuswap Indian Band in the past. That will give direction as to whether or not to go ahead with a forensic audit.
Right now, the bands water system is at capacity, but the new council plans to extend it to the north as soon as possible.
We have two wells in place, ready to go, and they will provide us with more water than we could ever need, said Ms. Cote.
The bands asset management plan, which is already in its second phase, is a pilot project for asset management for B.C. First Nations.
To create the Community Development Plan, which will lay out the bands development and other goals, council will be seeking input from band members.
The band members come before chief and council. Theyll be telling us what to do, what their needs on and off reserve are, said Ms. Cote.
The bands land code was put in place last June, under the previous administration, after a band-wide vote. Ms. Cote said it will benefit band members holding certificates of possession along Highway 93/95 when the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure eventually doubles the width of highway from the Crossroads to Juniper Heights. The Shuswap band will be compensated the 13 acres of land it loses as a result of this process by getting another 13 acres somewhere else, and the band is checking out potential options to present to band members for feedback.
So far, according to Ms. Cote, the new band council has received a lot of interest from the valleys business community in setting up on band land.
It will create a bigger tax base for us, and the increased taxation is something we can use for the benefit of all Shuswap band members, said Ms. Cote, adding the bands current office location is of particular commercial appeal and so the band is trying to find a new spot for its office.
Were looking for a new band hall and new office for administration. My hope is we can have Kinbasket Development Corporation (the bands corporate arm) and the band office under one roof. We need something soon, said Ms. Cote.
The new council will continue the Shuwsaps longstanding support for the Jumbo Glacier Resort project.
We have signed an agreement with Jumbo and that is something as a council we will continue, said Ms. Cote. The agreement entails a lot of positive opportunities for band members.
Ms. Cotes salary as chief is just a bit more than $57,000 (the same pay she had as a councillor in the past), while the new councillors each get paid $2,500 a month. The new council holds meetings at the band office every Friday at 9 a.m. and leaves time at the end of each meeting for band members to come forward with any concerns or issues they may have.
We are totally transparent. Any community member can come in and see what we are doing, said Ms. Cote, adding that her door at the band office is always open.
The first all-band meeting in years will be held at the end of January.