Elder died wanting to be member of reserve she was born on

(Eva May Nelson with her son Lenard Nelson before her death in 2015. Photo supplied by family.)

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
Trapped beneath impassable thickets of thorny blackberry bushes was the rusted evidence of Eva May Nelson’s life on Peters First Nation.

For decades wild bushes had blanketed the land Nelson was born on in British Columbia.

That is until Nelson pulled into the driveway of Samantha Peters unannounced one summer day in 2013.

“I had no idea who she was,” said Peters. “I had never met her.”

Nelson pointed to the blackberry bushes and said her house used to be there – all that remained was a rusted old stove. Nelson mentioned the apple trees she used to pick apples from as a child.

“I told her, ‘your apple trees are still here,’” said Peters.

Eva May Nelson as a young girl outside of her former home on Peters First Nation.
The land as seen today where Eva May Nelson’s home once was. Where the log is on the bottom left is where Nelson is seen standing in the photo above.

Nelson, who went to St. Mary’s residential school, explained how she was born on the reserve.

Her father, Harry Joe Peters, was even the chief back in the 1950s.

But she had lost contact with Peters many moons ago.

It was different back then when Indian Agents held power over them.

She married someone an agent believed was a white man and lost her status.

She also had her name crossed off the Peters band list.

After about 1950 it was like Nelson never existed on Peters.

It remained that way until 1986.

She got her status back through Bill C-31.

But she didn’t get her name back on the band list.

The blackberry bushes would conceal her life on Peters until she met Samantha Peters, a woman Nelson purposely wanted to meet.

Word was getting around that Samantha was trying to help people become members of the band. She had just submitted 66 applications for membership.

She added one more in June 2013.

In Nelson’s application, who was 80 at the time, was her birth certificate which had a name no one had seen in a long while – the original name of Peters First Nation – Squawtits (pronounced Squawtich). It’s believed it was changed to Peters in the 1950s.

“It’s the first time we saw it on any documents,” said Samantha Peters.

Almost two years later Nelson died on May 26, 2015.

“She died before she ever became a member. I don’t think her membership application was properly considered,” said Samantha.

But that is a common theme on the reserve and a focus of several stories by APTN National News over the last month.

See related: Indigenous Affairs asked to abolish B.C. First Nation election results amid corruption allegations

In depth: Promise to dying mother sees daughter take on ‘rigged’ band council to bring her family home

The deal: Inside a Kinder Morgan pipeline deal and the fight that followed in a B.C. First Nation

Peters is a Section 10 band meaning the council controls who are members, not Indigenous Affairs. Once the minister of Indigenous Affairs approves a membership code all power of who is a member goes to council, yet they are supposed to follow the code.

Peters’ code states if you are the natural child of a member you are entitled to be a member. Both of Nelson’s parents had died years ago. They are both said to be buried in Peters’ cemetery.

It’s not clear if this means Nelson should qualify as a member and Peters’ council has repeatedly refused to answer questions from APTN.

Documents appear to show people were improperly removed by the former chief the late Frank Peters after his council got control of membership in late 1987.

Two of Nelson’s children, Charlotte and Lenard, have applications in to be members. Lenard and Charlotte filed their applications last October but only Lenard said he has received a response from council.

His application remains unresolved.

Charlotte said she hasn’t received a response despite the membership code stating all applicants are supposed to receive notice within 30 days.

She remembers going to the Peters band council office in 1991 to have her status card renewed.

“I was told by Frank (Peters) he wouldn’t do it for me because I might come back in five years demanding land,” she said.

Neither Charlotte or Lenard have much and have never asked anything from Peters except when their mom died. They asked council for help to bury their mother.

“They donated $150 and that is all,” said Lenard. “That’s nothing really.”

Eva May Nelson home she lived in from 1954 to when she died in May 2015 in Rosedale, B.C.

When Eva May passed, she didn’t drive a new car and lived in the same modest home she bought with her late husband in Rosedale in 1954.

She wanted just one thing – to be a member to the land she was born on.

“Eva May Nelson was from here. Her dad was chief of the band,” said Samantha Peters.

“How can you deny her?”

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18 thoughts on “Elder died wanting to be member of reserve she was born on

  1. I was just told from my mom who is Ramona kelly (JOHN). She told me that her grandfather had five boys and five girls that she remembers and This elder was one of them. My moms grandfather was the chief of this Rez. His name was harry Joe peters. Eva was the sister of my moms mom Bernadette Peters (JOHN). Find this not right to be denied of status just because that government decided that a native women that was married to a native that didn’t have status was automatically taken of the list of their own home lands. We are fighting to get all our people back on lands of our ancestors so that we all can feel that we are real natives. So please consider on this matter to allow her children and grandchildren back to be as native as we are in thier hearts and mines. Thank you

  2. So sorry to hear of Eva’s passing ,I always new her as Yvonne ,I had not seen her for years ,then one day while shopping in Chilliwack I met her and her son,
    they were parked at price smart ,we both were happy to see each other .
    All the years she and her family lived down there,a they call it Peters Band
    one should be ashamed to say they live on that reserve ,when they cannot look after their elders ,who have worked all their life to build that place up .
    the elders had their cattle ,sheep and all to make a living ,now the young
    are fighting over everything ,old wreck cars,,blackberry bushes ,,once a lovely
    place to call home and now no respect for the elders cannot even help them
    when the have passed away . how you can even hold your head up .
    From this elder who cares for the less down and out .i

  3. R.I.P Dear One……………..this is common and it all has to do with the dollars.
    Poor Soul.

  4. That is so sad, poor lady…Why do our First Nation’s people do that to each other, we have suffered long enough by governments and rules, my heart goes out to this family, yes truly sad and heartbreaking. Seems like our First Nation’s people squabble amongst each other when we should Love & Support Each Other

  5. Be truly self governing, hear the story, place on band list, paperwork is a federal requirement, fight for members rights.

  6. Those who denied Eva, denied true history. I am sick at heart for what this poor elder was denied! Its so wrong! I really hope her descendants pursue what should have been her every right.. sad..

  7. This is a sad story of a 80year old ” Elder”, who right fully knew her roots to be denied. Of her Human Rights”. I found out my late father had a status # when I got his estate and I had applied thru the Grandmothers Act”, but in all both parents where Status…sad how this is so sad to hear.. I got reinstated under the Bill C 31, when I found out my late father had a status # that all changed, but I pushed hard for it I called every week to Winnipeg, knowingly I was. A first Nation all my life….may the Creator bless her family and her ..

  8. So sad… breaks my heart … I am ‘positive’ I am’ related to the’ Nelsons’.. on my moms”’ side… my mom ”’ was disowned”” by her dad .. I know that is true . I just wanted to meet”” him on a personal note , after I found this out… so I heard”” he was still”” alive and”” in a care”” home in Sardis.. the one close to the Sto;lo elders lodge . First I went to the elders lodge to see if he was there . They told me to go just down the road.. I cant recall the name . I walked there and I saw him lying there , I think I woke him up.. kinda”’ startled”” him, I just said hi.. and all he did was look at me and , .. asked me what I was doing there .. and if I was there to ask him for $$ .. I just said No, I am your granddaughter and I just wanted to meet you.. and I told him my name and I just left…. I never ever told anyone else this before … But I am sure happy I got to meet him before he passed away .. I don’t know why .. to this day tho.. why it was so strong in me.. just to meet the man who disowned his own daughter … But I do realize that my own father in a different sense Disowned me .. when I was very young .. in a very abusive way that I am still to this day having a hard time dealing with it… thanks for your time and … truth out on this and other things that need to be spoken of,… amR.!. Lila

  9. Every day I sit on my couch, I turn my head to look out the front window, and I know that Eva May’s family’s rusted out stove is only 150 feet away in the blackberries.

    She ate meals cooked on that stove; warmed herself by it.

    I am ashamed to be a witness to to this.

    But I am proud that she knows it will all be okay.

    She knows.

  10. Eva May Nelson was born here on Peters Band, her father was Chief Harry Joe Peters. Chief Harry married Louise Mussell from Skwah. Both parents of Eva May Nelson were “Indians”. Eva May Nelson belongs to Peters, its part of her identity. Yet she died before the membership issue was resolved. Eva May Nelson was a member to the Band in my books, its the Sec 10 admin and Indian Act Council that beat the system. Eva May Nelson is in my prayers, with her family and friends, she is an important part of our family.

  11. My heart goes out to my family suffering from “Our other cousin of Peters Reserve”. I don’t recall Peters Band issuing a check to Charlette Nelson for funeral Expenses for her Mother Eva May Nelson , when I was organizing with My cousin from Peters Reserve by Phone and Email to contribute $300 for cost for Funneral
    Eva May was my Grand-auntie, my Grandmother Bernadette John “Peters” Baby sister.
    I’m appalled by how our relatives are being treated at this situation, denying such a rightfully hereditary spots as beening band members and to claim to land that is not rightfully theirs… our ancestors will be rolling in their graves, we have a name for hungry people in our traditional language and that name was never to be given to first Nations people…

    1. The Gov’t put us all on a piece of rock and as time goes by, our family fight over this piece of rock, if you lost your status, they make it hard for you to clime back on the piece of rock, that was giving to your family. I fought for my dad status for 10 years, lots of red tape to go through, I went through ottawa, with all my paper work, even they asked of every piece of paper out there, but don’t give up.

  12. I don’t understand why they didn’t get her in before she passed, my Mother get her membership back in 1989, i was to learn in 1991 I was also a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation something I am very proud of.

    We took her back home in 2000 to be buried where she was born.

    1. Peters First Nation is a Section 10 Band; the Council decides the Membership. Since Eva May regained her Status in 1986 (which is controlled by INAC), none of the Councils would allow her back in to Peters.

    1. Sending Prayers
      Dearling, please don’t let this make you bitter in anyway. Ponder…..don’t you Believe Her Creator Honored Her only wish by taking Her Home and placing her amongst Loving & Waiting arms of Ansectors
      I Believe

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