A long-time administrator of the Penticton Indian Band has returned – this time as chief.
Greg Gabriel was elected Monday night, capturing 107 of 358 votes cast or 30% of the popular vote.
The incumbent, Chad Eneas, finished fourth with 80 votes. Former councillors Tim Lezard (82) and Joseph Pierre (81) finished second and third, respectively. A fifth candidate, Brian Jack, received eight votes.
Gabriel, who served as band administrator for 34 years before retiring in 2016, told The Herald on Tuesday his pitch to PIB members was centred on putting the community back together.
“Given what happened the last four years, community members just weren’t being listened to. There wasn’t enough community input and engagement on some of the decisions that were being carried – just a complete lack of communication from the leadership table to the community, and that caused a lot of division in the community,” said Gabriel.
“My main priority right now is bringing the community together, first and foremost, and obviously the second one is informing them about things that are happening not only within the community, but everything that’s happened outside the community. There’s a lot of political issues they need to put their voice and input into.”
Gabriel, who spent the past two years working as the administrator for the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, touched on a quartet of other hot-button issues during the interview.
– The new chief “definitely” stands behind a statement issued Monday by Eneas on behalf of the PIB expressing its opposition to a proposed 330-unit housing development on Spiller Road within the City of Penticton: “Those areas do have significance for the Penticton Indian band. There’s a lot of history that’s up in those areas – cultural and traditional history.”
– He shares concerns about a pile of trash Appleton Waste left behind on locatee Adam Eneas’s land on Green Mountain Road: “There’s no doubt it’s something that I do want to look into and if there’s an opportunity to resolve that issue at no cost to the band, I will make it one of my focuses.”
– On the reserve now having three cannabis shops operating without provincial licences: “I fully support any community member that wants to get involved in any business, whether it’s cannabis or other businesses… but I would expect at some point in time the community may decide we want to add some controls to these types of businesses.”
– And regarding an ongoing dispute between non-Indigenous lobster fishermen and Mi’kmaq lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia that has seen the Mi’kmaq catches and gear destroyed by arsonists: “That’s very disturbing. It’s just complete, blatant racism, and there’s no doubt the Penticton Indian Band does stand in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq and I hope the Okanagan National Alliance itself will put a position forward as well.”
Former chief Eneas, who didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday, was ejected from office after a single four-year term that was filled with unrest, beginning with the resignations of five of eight councillors less than a year into it.
That was followed by questions about the short-handed council’s legitimacy, a blockade of the band office, administrative staff firings, lawsuits and a flawed byelection, the results of which were successfully appealed by band members through Federal Court.
As per custom, the band was set Tuesday night to take nominations for all eight seats on council ahead of an election Dec. 7. The band hired a Victoria lawyer to run both elections as a third-party administrator.