Westbank First Nation (WFN) Chief Christopher Derickson is addressing “multiple and serious” problems regarding a land transaction identified in a report by a provincial court judge.
The Hon. Marion Buller found the sale and transfer of WFN owned property in the District of Peachland in 2021 potentially deprived WFN of millions of dollars. The 147-acres of fee simple lands on Pincushion Mountain was part of the Ponderosa golf course development and was sold for $1.5 million, based on an outdated appraisal from 2009. The BC Assessment value of the property at the time was more than $5 million according to Buller’s report. The land was acquired as part of accommodation agreement negotiations between the province and the developer. It was sold and transferred by two WFN staff members without the authorization of council. WFN is looking at options to have the land returned or be appropriately compensated.
“Currently, we are in the process of commissioning three independent appraisals to determine what the fair market value of those lands would have been at the point in time of the sale,” said Chief Derickson. “The fact that they were sold or reportedly sold for an undervalued price means the members have lost out on potential revenues that could have been used for housing member services and programs.”
One of the staff members is no longer employed by WFN, while the other is on leave, stated Derickson. As to how his community is taking the news, Derickson says it is somewhat divided.
“There’s a lot to digest there. Obviously, we’re a close-knit community with only 870 members, so that’s a question that I think I will have a better answer for you in the months to come. But in the meantime, as the government and as an elected official, I have a fiduciary obligation to do what’s in the best interest of this government and community and to work on behalf of members to improve accountability and transparency in the WFN government.”
Derickson added council has already implemented some of the recommendations made in Buller’s report.
“We’ve begun recording our council meetings in their entirety,” he said. “Those recordings will be used as the official minutes and records of council meetings for members to review.”
Derickson said, other recommended changes are significant and currently undergoing legal review. He hopes to be striking an advisory committee of not just experts, but of members to begin a process of constitutional and governance reform. The WFN chief, also pointed to transparent and accountable government, whether it be Indigenous or non-Indigenous, as benefiting society as a whole.
“A stronger, more transparent more accountable Westbank First Nation government doesn’t just benefit our membership, it benefits non-member residents living on our reserve, it benefits the over 500 businesses doing business on reserve, it benefits our local municipal partners and the province of B.C. So as long as I’m here, I’m going to do everything I can to improve this government to make it more accountable, more transparent.”
~This story has been updated from its original version reported earlier by the Capital News.