Health worker reinstated after Mount Currie sit-ins 

Lack of communication and understanding of policies blamed

A longtime physiotherapist at the Mount Currie Health Centre has been restored to her position after Lil'wat elders staged a series of protests against her alleged firing by the band.

Anita Samuels, who worked in Mount Currie for 14 years, was the subject of three sit-ins at council chambers last week as a group of elders demanded she be reinstated.

A news release sent to Pique Friday morning said Lil'wat Elders and handicapped advocates were staging the protest to restore Ms. Samuels to her position, but they also made other demands that included:

• dismissal of an administrator at the Mount Currie Health Centre for alleged "breach of confidentiality, breach of trust, and refusing services to elders and handicapped"

• the resignation of Senior Administrator Daniel Sailland for "failure to provide responsible and accountable service to the Elders and the disabled"

• a vote of non-confidence for council members who served in the past term for "failure to carry out leadership responsibility and withholding services to elders and handicapped persons".

Priscilla Ritchie, a Lil'wat Elder who took part in the sit-ins, said Samuels was let go because the Mount Currie Band was doing a review of job descriptions and employee contracts.

Samuels's job was to provide support for the handicapped and ensuring they got the proper equipment for their needs, according to Ritchie.

"Rather than just physiotherapy, she helped in the elders' complex to make sure that the furniture and the cupboards and that are handicapped-accessible, and the bathrooms and stuff like that," she said.

The news release states that a meeting regarding the elders' demands took place at council chambers on April 7 and that Lil'wat Chief Leonard Andrew promised to have the matter resolved the next day at 9 a.m.

The elders and handicapped advocates staged a sit-in at the Band Office April 14. Band councillors and the Senior Administrator are alleged to have appeared at the protest and "consistently disregarded" Elders by referring to "fiscal demands and responsibilities."

Protesters complained, according to the news release, that instead of following traditional ways, councillors and administrators were following policies set down by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), the federal ministry that oversees matters to do with First Nations. That meeting ended with a promise to deal with the issues, according to the news release.

Elders occupied council chambers and the band office once more on April 16, a meeting at which an "Elder Councillor" threatened to shut down services in the band office and employment centre "in (an) attempt to silence elders and disabled persons' voices."

The protesters found themselves back at council chambers on April 17 for an emergency council meeting to deal with the matter of Samuels's departure. The meeting lasted from about 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to Ritchie. Chief Andrew, in North Vancouver for a funeral, did not attend the meeting.

Sailland said the whole matter arose from a lack of communication and comprehension of how rules and policies work within the band.

"It became a frustrating point for the community because we're implementing programs with guidelines from funders," he said. "Sometimes those guidelines aren't necessarily appreciated by the community.

"We get at a crossroads of who can actually change these. There is a misconception that operationally, day-to-day staff can just change the policies and implement them as they see fit. If we did that, we would lose our funding."

As to the matter of Samuels's departure, Sailland couldn't comment on the precise reason why she stopped working for the band, but he confirmed that she's been re-hired by the band on a three- to six-month contract. During this time chief and council will review the circumstances that led to the past week's situation.

Samuels could not be reached for comment.


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