Binche Reserve has been trying to separate from Tl’azt’en Nation for two years, but the process has become stalled.
In reality, the Binche elders say Binche had never wanted to join with Tache back when the then Department of Indian Affairs came to the village in 1959 and had Chief Dominic (who according to the story could not read or write) put an “x” on the document joining Binche, Tache, Middle River and Yekooche into the Stuart-Trembleur Band.
This band then became Tl’azt’en Nation.
Yekooche broke away in 1994 from Tl’azt’en, and Binche believes they should do the same for the sake of improving services on their own reserve lands and returning to the more self-sufficient way of life they once had.
“It about the people wanting their independence back,” said Josh Hallman, the chair of the separation committee, as well as an elected Tl’azt’en Band councillor.
While it has been talked about for decades, the latest attempt at separation became official after a meeting in February of 2011 when Binche members got together and passed a motion to start the separation process in earnest.
The committee then collected 109 signatures of eligible voters who identify as members of Binche, out of an estimated 150-160 eligible voters.
“That is a huge number of eligible voters that have voted in favour of separating,” said Hallman. the chair of the separation committee, as well as an elected Tl’azt’en Band councillor.
The separation committee met with Tl’azt’en and put together a proposal for the separation, dividing up liabilities and assets.
While Tl’azt’en did put together their own committee to negotiate terms in March 2011 and was open to the separation process, the Binche committee is concerned things have become stalled and Tl’azt’en committee members have not been attending meetings regularly.
Chief Ralph Pierre of Tl’azt’en admits things have been held up lately, but said he’s hoping to get things back on track once the Tl’azt’en committee can get together and get its members up to speed.
“It’s just Tl’azt’en’s end, we haven’t been consistent in having our committee meetings, so the committee needs to sit and there were a few things that needed clearing up,” said Pierre.
He said there are a few things Binche still needs to get in order, but he said on the Tl’azt’en side, the committee members just have to find a time to get together and discuss some things internally.
The Binche group said they hope to continue the process in good faith, and have submitted a proposal they feel is agreeable and the two groups do not appear to be fighting over assets.
“It was a respectful proposal, it was an easy proposal,” said Hallman, who also said Binche would own up to their housing debt and take it with them, a financial issue Tl’azt’en has been struggling with across their reserves.
Hallman said the committee wants to see the process completed while the older members are still around to see it happen and to eventually be able to provide better services for their youth, who were promised a new community centre in 2001.
“Our youth are the big losers here at the end of the day,” said Hallman.
To complete the process, the proposal needs to be finalized by both sides, and once Tl’azt’en has accepted it, the proposal can be sent back to the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC).
Once AANDC has given its assent to the proposal, Tl’azt’en and Binche will hold referendums on the separation.
Whatever happens, Hallman said the proposal is not going away.
“We need to move this forward,” he said. “We’re not going to fail, we’re going to succeed.”
While Tl’azt’en administration has been struggling with a number of issues, including ongoing lawsuits by past employees, an investigation into possible over-billing and false claims by a Northern Health psychologist and mounting housing debt, these issues are unrelated to Binche’s desire to separate.
“We have our own interest in governing ourselves in a respectful way,” said Hallman.