An attempt by the Okanagan Indian Band to remove a former member from her land has been stayed for a year by a BC Supreme Court judge.
Marilyn Johnston inherited the property from her aunt, but the Vernon-based band says she can’t keep it because she’s not an OKIB member.
Johnston applied in 2002 for reinstatement as a band member. She was denied membership in 2018-19, although Justice Jeanne Watchuk noted in her written decision that internal band memos in 2012 had indicated “there was no impediment to approving the membership application.”
“Had the Band completed the process promptly or at least in 2012, the defendant would have been a member of the Band when her aunt died. She would have received the bequest of the Lands,” wrote Watchuk in an October decision posted online Wednesday.
Johnston, 70, was raised on the OKIB reserve and attended school in Vernon. In 1976, she took a job with the Nak’azdli Whut’en Indian Band in Fort St. James.
“The defendant transferred her band membership from the OKIB in 1988 to enhance her credibility and trust with the community members she worked with in the victim services program,” the judge wrote.
In 2009, Johnston moved back to the Okanagan to live with her aunt, Rhoda Simla. Simla died in 2013 and left everything to Johnston.
Johnston now lives on the property with her daughter and grandson.
When non-band members aren’t entitled to band land, the usual procedure is for the band to sell the land and give the proceeds to the owner, the ruling explained. That happened with some of the properties inherited by Johnston.
Bad blood ensued, the judge wrote, when the band tried to send surveyors to her property in 2016. The band claimed Johnston was threatening, though she denied it and said she does not own a firearm.
In 2018, the band denied her membership. The application was reconsidered and denied again in 2019. Johnston has appealed.
The judge ordered a one-year stay in the efforts to remove Johnston, which could be extended.
“It is the responsibility of the defendant to take all steps necessary to expedite in any way possible all matters with regard to her (membership) application,” the judge wrote.
In the meantime, Johnston must allow the property to be surveyed, the judge said.