Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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First Nation chief ‘jumped in and took over’ when he saw chance to make money on project, band member says

Tristin Hopper

National Post

By putting himself in line for a lucrative bonus just weeks before a massive provincial land deal was set to close, Kwikwetlem First Nation chief Ron Giesbrecht knowingly orchestrated his history-making payday, alleges a band member now leading the charge to turf him from office.

 

“This [project] has been in the works for a while.… Ron saw an opportunity to make some money, so he jumped in and took over,” said Kwikwetlem band member Ron Jackman.

Last Thursday, documents released under the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act revealed that Chief Giesbrecht collected $914,219 in 2013/2014 — effectively making him the highest-paid elected representative in all of Canada.

Most of the cash was due to an $800,000 bonus Chief Giesbrecht received as the likely result of an unspecified $8 million “economic benefit agreement” inked between the First Nation and the Province of B.C.

At the time, the chief would have only been a few months into a stint as the band’s economic development officer, where, under a since-removed portion of the contract for that job, he was entitled to receive a 10% cut of all “capital projects and business opportunities.”

In Chief Giesbrecht’s only media interview since his massive income became public, he said that the bonus came as a surprise.

“Whoever thought the bonus would be this much? I tell you, I never would have,” he told a reporter from Tri Cities NOW.

On Monday, Mr. Jackman questioned that statement.

“Once we get a forensic audit, it will come out that Ron knew about this before he took the job on,” he said.

Until January of 2013, the post of economic development officer had been held by Andrea Aleck, a former health director with the Vancouver-area Tsleil-Waututh Nation who later went on to take a job with the nearby Katzie First Nation.

Eight months later, in September, Chief Giesbrecht took over the post “in order to keep millions of dollars worth of projects moving,” according to a Tri-Cities NOW account of their interview with the chief.

According to band members contacted by the National Post, they were not aware that Chief Giesbrecht or Ms. Aleck had been entitled to 10% of all new projects. The provision was quietly struck out of the economic development officer contract in April.

“I received a bonus only for deals that were agreed once I took on the role of economic development officer,” Chief Giesbrecht said in a Monday statement to the National Post.

The chief added that he could not reveal the details of those projects due to confidentiality agreements, but said he was “concerned about any suggestions that I received a bonus for contracts I was not responsible for.”

Last week, the Kwikwetlem’s only two councillors, Ed Hall and Marvin Joe, said they were unaware of the deal.

On Monday, Mr. Jackman, a CNC machining student at the B.C. Institute of Technology, was on the Kwikwetlem reserve to drum up support for Chief Giesbrecht’s ouster — and to put his own name forward as a replacement.

Unusually for Kwikwetlem reserve politics, Mr. Jackman said he has garnered support from Chief Giesbrecht’s own family. “One of his aunties actually broke down and cried … family members tell me they don’t care if he’s related; if he took the money, that’s wrong,” he said.

On Wednesday, dissident band members are holding a meeting to officially call for Chief Giesbrecht’s resignation. If he refuses, the next step will be to get 49% of Kwikwetlem members to sign a petition calling for a leadership vote.

Aside from the landless Qayqayt First Nation, the Kwikwetlem are the smallest First Nation in the Vancouver area with only about 80 to 85 members. More than half of those, including Mr. Jackman and Chief Giesbrecht, live off reserve.

“If Ron really cared for his people, he would step down,” said Mr. Jackman, whose brother Percy Cunningham preceded Mr. Giesbrecht in the role of chief.

The province of B.C. did not release any details related to the $8 million deal, saying it could not do so without the assent of the Kwikwetlem band office, although a government representative did say it was tied to the “Province’s duty to consult.”

On Monday, a public relations consultant hired by the band in the wake of Thursday’s salary disclosure confirmed that the recent deal was unrelated to the Evergreen Line, an 11 kilometre extension to the Vancouver SkyTrain being constructed very close to Kwikwetlem reserve land.

In a statement given to members last week, they were promised new details by Thursday.

“Chief Ron has made it clear that he is accountable to members and that you are the priority,” read a Friday statement by the band.

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