A small First Nation with a big housing problem is being ignored, two band councillors say

One of two band councillors representing Wi’tat, also known as Fort Babine, in British Columbia say amalgamation is making a bad housing situation worse.

“Not only just these houses that got mould problems – some of them it’s the foundation, the basement foundation,” said Robbie Reid. “Things like that they need to correct that before it’s going to get worse.”

Fort Babine, located roughly 1,200 km north of Vancouver, is home to about 60 residents.

Bessie West, the second councillor, says the way the band council operates makes it difficult to advocate for residents like Martina West.

West says her water was shut off after the pipe burst a year ago and her belongings moved into storage after a bug infestation.

She now lives in a near empty house.

“I had a rough time,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t even eat, I just go to bed.”

The two councillors say nearly half of the homes in their community need major repairs or replacement.

But they claim they are turned down when they ask for housing support. And sometimes they say they are told there is no money.

Lake Babine council has nine councillors and one chief who represent the communities of Weyonne, Tachet Lake, Fort Babine and Old Fort.

“They outvote us all the time,” noted Reid, “and they have four councillors in Weyonne and a chief. We have got two councillors in Tachet; even if they sided with us, we still get out-voted.”

No one from the Lake Babine office in Weyonne responded to messages left by APTN News seeking comment.

Indian agent

Fort Babine Elder Fred William says a federal Indian agent amalgamated the communities in 1957.

“He amalgamated Old Fort Band, which is our neighbouring band, and Fort Babine Band, our parent band. This is our mother reserve, and he amalgamated these two.”

Fort Babine is about 100 km north of Smithers in northwestern B.C.

William said people living in Fort Babine were pressured to move by the government and offered jobs in nearby sawmills.

“You can get a job, so they did, but what about us that stayed behind? We stayed behind because we believed that this is our land because we believed in our titles and rights.”

Many Fort Babine members moved to the Weyonne reserve in Burns Lake, which now has nearly 1,000 residents.

“They became the main office, and we became the satellite – everything is so backwards,” said William.

West said Fort Babine members have been raising concerns about housing for years.

“They can’t live in conditions like that and be functioning people because they are busy trying to survive,” she noted.

“I have been pushing for stuff asking this,” added Reid, “we need things are done, housing, but we don’t have any control over it.”

There was no reply from Lake Babine First Nation when APTN contacted their office.

After a request from APTN, Indigenous Services Canada said it is going back through 10 years of financial records to determine how much money the council has received for housing. It twice missed the deadline for this story after asking for more time to do the search.

West said it is a sad time for the community.

“We are being even more diminished,” she said. “Our services are disappearing; our school is open four days a week, not five days a week.

“All of those decisions are made for us. We never asked for it.”

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