Chief of Westbank First Nation resigns, says fighting corruption ‘has taken a toll’

Click to play video: 'Chief of Westbank First Nation resigns abruptly' Chief of Westbank First Nation resigns abruptly
Chief of Westbank First Nation resigns abruptly – Jun 17, 2022

The chief of Westbank First Nation is resigning due to alleged corruption within the band.

On Friday, through a press release issued to the media, Christopher Derickson announced he was stepping down, with Friday being his last day as chief.

Sparking the decision is the controversial sale of 147 acres on behalf of the WFN in Peachland that an independent investigator said occurred without council authorization.

Read more: Westbank First Nation elects new chief (Sept. 20, 2019)

Elected in 2019, Derickson said in March that he was looking to freeze the 2021 sale, as it potentially deprived the band of millions of dollars.

However, in his Friday statement, Derickson said he met resistance.

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“I was elected as chief on a platform of good governance,” Derickson began his statement. “The definition of good governance has been hotly debated at membership meetings, around the council table, and at dinner tables across our Nation.

“To me, good governance has three main ingredients: competence, fairness and equity. It means that when government officials make decisions and apply laws and policies that they do so appropriately, impartially and consistently; not influenced by personal interest, relationships, likes and dislikes.

“Good governance should also empower the people through transparency and participation.”

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Westbank First Nation has treated more than 400 hectares of forested land in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfire – Oct 4, 2019

According to Derickson, the 147-acre land sale was not only unauthorized, but also undervalued, and he worked to hold the WFN government to account.

“In June 2021, at my request, the (chief administrative officer) launched an independent third-party investigation into the transaction. Council shut down this investigation,” Derickson said.

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“In the ensuing months, I worked with a principled few within the government administration and the Nation to design and establish a review of the purported land sale by The Hon. Marion Buller, former B.C. provincial court judge and federal chief commissioner and chancellor of the University of Victoria.”

Read more: Westbank First Nation looking to freeze ‘improper’ land sale, says reforms will be implemented (March 4, 2022)

Derickson said the Buller report “highlighted numerous gaps in the Nation’s governance and made sixteen recommendations for positive change. Beginning to implement these recommendations has brought further evidence of corruption to light.”

He also said independent appraisals estimated that the sale undervalued the land by at least $2 million, adding that the land sold for $1.5 million.

“The report raises issues of honesty and integrity of certain former senior employees and of deception of the WFN council and lack of council fulfilling its duties of oversight and continuing accountability to members,” Derickson said.

“Fighting corruption and promoting accountability, integrity and transparency was the right thing to do. But it has taken a toll on my family and my mental and physical health.”

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Jingle dancing to heal an Okanagan community – Dec 1, 2020

Derickson continued, saying “the lack of competency, integrity and moral courage within the WFN council and the departure of our principled CAO, Simon Melanson, leave me with no other choice but to resign.

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“It is not an easy decision but one I have been forced to make. I want to thank all those who have supported, advised and encouraged me during my terms in office.”

He also asked that his privacy be respected as he takes steps to recover.

Global News has reached out to Westbank First Nation for comment.

Click to play video: 'Westbank First Nation long-term care home announces closure' Westbank First Nation long-term care home announces closure
Westbank First Nation long-term care home announces closure – Oct 21, 2021

On Friday afternoon, WFN issued a statement saying it is preparing for a general election on Sept. 15.

“Although Chief Derickson resigned his position as Chief effective today, no by-election is necessary according to WFN’s constitution, as there are only three months remaining in the term,” reads the statement.

WFN councillor Jordan Coble was quoted as saying “council thanks Chief Derickson for his service to WFN, and thanks (the) membership and past leadership for the strength of the constitution, ensuring effective governance in the face of any change. We will continue to operate as an elected body making collective decisions in the best interest of (the) membership, today and in the terms ahead.”

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Regarding the land sale, the statement said “WFN’s council unanimously supported an independent review of the transaction, led by the Honourable Marion Buller, and agreed to proceed in full with her recommendations. Over the past several months, council has been overseeing the review to determine what transpired, implement the recommendations, and take the necessary steps to protect WFN’s assets.”

“Council remains committed to ensuring good governance, including open and inclusive dialogue with its Membership, all members of Council, and Administration,” said Coble. “We look forward to the upcoming election and to forging ahead with WFN’s government priorities in alignment with the growing needs of our members, residents, and businesses.”

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