Chief Liard McMillan won’t bow to critics’ calls for his resignation.
The Liard First Nation leader faced another round of protests at the band office in Watson Lake last week.
But, as he did in January during an earlier bout of protests, McMillan wrote off the demonstrations as a small group of disgruntled people using social issues in the community as an excuse to fling personal attacks.
“There were not 150 people at the protest, there were five or six protesters and half of them were intoxicated,” he said of the demonstrations that began on July 3. “The rest of the people that were there, were either there to pick up their social assistance cheque or to grab a free hot dog.”
Protesters assert the chief doesn’t convene community meetings or disclose the state of the First Nation’s finances, and that he has done little to address social issues like alcoholism in the community.
McMillan conceded that the last general assembly was “a few years ago.” But community meetings, like job fairs and mining forums, happen often, he said.
The next general assembly is set for August, at Francis Lake. Protesters claim holding the meeting during hunting season and outside Watson Lake is another attempt from McMillan to keep information from citizens.
“GAs have been held on the land plenty of times,” he said, mentioning the First Nation’s historic Simpson Lake gathering, which produced the band’s constitution. “I think holding an assembly in town allows for people under the influence to come and disrupt the meetings.”
Elder and youth camps are being held at the lake as well, McMillan added, noting lots of food and transportation will be provided. And Francis Lake is a great place to go hunting, he said.
Protesters also allege that the chief harangued dissenters on the phone, and even fired workers who signed a petition.
McMillan disputes all this. “That’s as far from the truth as can be,” he said.
McMillan won’t attend a meeting staged by protesters next week, from July 17 to 20. The gathering will only address calls for his resignation, rather than the broader community’s concerns, he said.
“Despite the allegations and the rumours, I’m not a dictator and I’m not a hereditary chief,” said McMillan, who has served as chief for nine years. “I’ve stated that I would not run again after this term but in the meantime I intend to complete my job and complete my mandate. I think that it’s undemocratic having a small group of people, or a mob mentality, basically try to take over this government.”
Joe Dick, a community member and Liard First Nation citizen, agrees.
“This place is just so full of rumours,” he said. “We don’t have any meetings anymore because of all the anger going around. It divides the community. That’s all this is doing.”
Dick was specifically offended by some protesters’ claims that many First Nation members go hungry while only a few benefit from mining in their traditional territory.
“Nobody here is starving with empty cupboards,” he said. “We’re native people, we have our life. We can go out and harvest what we want out there in the wild. We’re not back in the 30’s. Everyone here drives around in $30,000 vehicles. There’s no need to say things like that. It makes us look bad and it’s not true,” said Dick.
“Me and my brothers, we live off the land and we’re happy. Too many people don’t use their land. These guys that protest, they don’t help out in the community (with things like potlatches and funerals), they’re just out there to cause trouble.”
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