After two decades under the same leader, the Semiahmoo First Nation has chosen a new chief.
Chilliwack resident Harley Chappell was elected to the role Dec. 22, in the band’s biennial election.
He replaces Willard Cook, who held the title since 1996, when Cook replaced longtime chief Bernard Charles. Charles, who was Grand Chief when he died in 2008, served as elected chief for 36 years.
Cook’s term ended on Dec. 27.
Joanne Charles and Roxanne Charles were re-elected as councillors.
Repeated attempts by Peace Arch News to connect with Chappell and the two councillors have been unsuccessful. However, information on Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s website confirms the trio’s positions took effect Wednesday.
Issues inherited by Chappell include the seemingly interconnected challenges of a newly tenuous relationship with the City of White Rock, and Semiahmoo’s long-contaminated water supply. The reserve has been under a permanent boil-water advisory since 2005.
Cook and Joanne Charles in September appealed to the City of Surrey for an emergency connection to Surrey’s network, following notice in August from the City of White Rock that its supply would be terminated “within… 18 months.”
White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin later described the termination as a “possible outcome… if we can’t come to some sort of negotiated agreement (surrounding the provision of services).”
It remains unclear if remuneration played a role in last week’s election.
Last year, word that the SFN chief and council were together paid nearly half a million dollars in the 2013-2014 fiscal year – with $267,729 (including $420 in expenses) of that going to Cook, $200,756 to Joanne Charles ($13,618 in expenses) and $32,198 ($27,473 in expenses) to Roxanne Charles – was the subject of discontent from some members who claimed the bands’ finances had never been shared.
The salaries were defended in an August 2015 statement from chief and council that noted the majority “comes from revenue that has been generated on behalf of the nation, and negotiations on some of these agreements are ongoing.”
How public Chappell will be in his role remains to be seen. While Bernard Charles was quite visible during and after his tenure, Cook was somewhat less in the public eye. While Cook attended various public events, and weighed in on the 2009 Cohen Commission into Fraser River sockeye salmon numbers, Joanne Charles has been the band’s main spokesperson in recent years.
According to Chappell’s Facebook page, he graduated from Earl Marriott Secondary in 1994, is married with two sons and is currently owner/instructor of Pacific Top Team Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Chilliwack.
In 2014, Chappell was MC of an event at EMS, when two totem poles created by his cousin, SFN master carver Leonard Wells, were raised.
Last week’s election was held under the Indian Act. Any appeals would have to be filed within 45 days.
According to INAC, the band has 98 registered members as of November 2016. Of those, 51 live on the 129.1-hectare reserve itself, seven live on other reserves and 40 live off the reserve.