What the Semiahmoo First Nation does on its own ancestral lands is its own business.
And whether the 93 members of the group are happy with what their chief and councillors do for the salaries they draw – nearly $500,000 in combined salaries that have occasioned comment across Canada for their apparent generosity – remains, ultimately, between them and their elected officials.
Whether the people represented accept the rationale provided for the salaries or take issue with the governance and services they receive, is for them to say – and so far few have commented either way.
Although moves by the Semiahmoo First Nation to consolidate control of its lands – such as fencing off parts of Semiahmoo Park to limit incursions by inconsiderate dog owners – have met with some resentment, by and large most residents respect the basic principle of the autonomy of the Peninsula’s indigenous population.
But to the extent that more than $3 million of the Semiahmoo First Nation’s declared income last year came from provincial taxpayers – in comparison to less than $172,000 from the federal government – we, too, could be forgiven for taking an interest in whether our neighbours’ best interests are being served.
It is troubling, given that provincial contribution, that some describe living conditions on the Semiahmoo reserve as being “Third World.”
And while many might decry what a massive program of land development on the reserve would mean for the whole Peninsula – as well as such ventures running counter to avowed aims and objectives of the Semiahmoo First Nation’s leadership – it does seem that there is more potential to boost economic development through wise stewardship of existing assets.
Opinions differ widely on whether a formal treaty between the Semiahmoo people and B.C. would actually grant them more autonomy – some view such an agreement, which requires a surrender of indigenous title, as an attack on the legacy of future generations.
The current salary and income revelations create a thorny issue because nobody – or certainly nobody on a local level – has a desire to intrude on or interfere with the dealings of the Semiahmoo people.
But as long as the Semiahmoo First Nation’s income seems dependent on taxpayer contributions, rather than on its own program of economic development, the relationship with its neighbours will likely remain complicated.