The standoff at Sugar Cane is over.
The men occupying the Williams Lake Indian Band administrative office since early Tuesday left the building around 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon after meeting with elders and WLIB council members.
Council agreed to hold a community meeting Monday, May 30 for community members only starting at 5 p.m. in the WLIB gymnasium.
A chaotic scene unfolded Thursday afternoon as Williams Lake Indian Band acting chief, council and elders forced their way back into their own administration office following three days of occupation by protestors.
Leading the rush was Coun. Rick Gilbert, who arrived at the office in his vehicle at about 1:30 p.m. and quickly strode toward the back door of the building where several protesters were milling about.
A pushing and shoving match ensued with about 20 people from both camps rushing the scene and yelling as protestors attempted unsuccessfully to block Gilbert’s entry.
RCMP officers ran into the crowd, located on the back porch, and were able to diffuse the situation, which was then taken inside for discussion minus several out-of-town protesters who were not band members.
About 10 minutes after the initial scuffle the situation seemed to calm down both inside and outside the administration office, with community leaders and demonstrators talking inside about the issues which led to the protest.
At 3:30 p.m. Thursday Coun. Gilbert and several elders were still inside talking with protestors.
The occupation began Tuesday when six men entered the band office just after 8 a.m. after they forced their way in and asked staff to leave as women staffers were opening the building for the day.
There was an initially-swift response from heavily armed members of the RCMP, who secured the perimeter around the building and communicated with the protestors and also with band councillors gathered at the community’s resource building across the street.
Once the occupation was deemed a peaceful demonstration, however, it left Acting Chief Heather McKenzie and her councillors in a difficult position with few options.
Council said Wednesday that while the occupation continued, the WLIB and its membership were suffering both economically and emotionally, unable to deal with daily government business or open schools.
Four of the six men who originally took over the building were Darcy Kobelt, Arnie Jack, Edward Razor Thomas and Ernie Archie. Two others remain unidentified.
Chief and council have been dealing with an increasingly active handful of community protesters in recent months, however, the tipping point came last week when council had Sugar Cane resident Sheldon Wycotte forcibly removed from his late grandfather’s home on the reserve.
WLIB maintain the decision to evict Wycotte came after lengthy due process and a failure to pay rent. For his part, Wycotte said he was targeted by band administration after refusing to attend a treatment centre and sign a tenancy agreement.