British Columbia

Semiahmoo First Nation charges non-band residents $50K for water

Naomi Mitchell has lived on Semiahmoo First Nation land for decades, but if the 79-year-old doesn't come up with at least $50,000 by mid-June, she'll be kicked out.

Non-band residents must vacate land if they don't pay, according to a notice sent to residents

The start of construction of this modest road in March was the first step toward new water infrastructure that will end the Semiahmoo First Nation's 15-year permanent boil water advisory. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Naomi Mitchell has lived on Semiahmoo First Nation land for decades, but if the 79-year-old doesn't come up with at least $50,000 by mid-June, she'll be kicked out.

The Indigenous community is in the midst of installing a clean water system that would lift its longstanding boil water advisory. The project is being done in partnership with the City of Surreythe provincial Transportation Ministry and the federal government.

The clean water system will potentially serve about 100 people who live in the community.

But for the more than 30 residents who aren't band members, including Mitchell, connecting to the new line will cost them tens of thousands of dollars.

Those who don't pay will be forced to leave.

"We've had this conversation over the past few years with non-band member residents that this will be at their own cost. They will incur their own costs to hook up to the services," said Chief Harley Chappell.

"We had no idea until March what the cost actually was," he added.

Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner sign an agreement for water services. (City of Surrey)

Boil water advisory

Chappell says the First Nation received roughly $10 million for the project. The finances were earmarked exclusively for First Nations on reserve.

"All First Nations on reserve are covered. Non-first nations on reserve are not covered by that funding source, so those costs are theirs to incur," said Chappell.

Thirty-six residents have until June 15 to pay the fee in order for the band to keep the project on schedule.

Those residents could also have to pay up to an extra $60,000 if their property requires additional infrastructure to connect the waterline.

A costly connection

Naomi Mitchell's son, Jason Mitchell, says his mother and several other residents are overwhelmed by the costs.

"These [non-band members] that live on the land, a lot of them are the marginalized. They are people that have kind of fallen through the cracks," said Mitchell, who grew up on the First Nation.

"They found a very beautiful place to live, and it's being taken away from them," he added.

Mitchell says his mother purchased the house that sits on the Indigenous territory almost 30 years ago. She leased the land up until 2008, when Indigenous Services Canada stopped issuing leases due to the boil water advisory.

Like all other non-band residents, she now pays a monthly fee to stay on the property.

"She has a wood stove. She drinks out of her well. She's been doing it forever," he said.

Mitchell says a small group is exploring legal options regarding the new terms but are concerned that trying the issue in court could be costly.

"These are people that don't have a lot of money on the reserve and for them to fight the band is going to be a lengthy and expensive undertaking, so they're scared," said Mitchell, adding that they have retained a lawyer.

But Chappell maintains it's within the band's legal right to manage the lands as it sees fit.

"Unfortunately this is part of the process of raising the standard of living in our First Nation," he said.