Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Canadians can now publicly see, for the first time, what First Nations leaders across the country are paid

By Kate Dubinski, The London Free Press

Like Ontario’s ‘sunshine law,’ which pries open the T-4 slips of all public servants paid $100,000 or more, Canada’s more than 600 native bands — including eight in the London region — must now publicly report their leaders’ pay — and more — online. Not everyone is thrilled. Kate Dubinski reports.

 

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Canadians can now publicly see, for the first time, what First Nations leaders across the country are paid — or they will, once all the figures are posted online.

More than 600 bands had until last week to file the salaries of their chiefs and councillors with the federal government, disclosures fought for by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation which insisted Canadians are entitled to see how their money is spent.

For years, bands have had to provide those details to the federal government. But not until now, under a law the taxpayers group had pushed since 2009, has the information been made publicly available to all.

Salaries for chiefs vary greatly, with some paid $30,000 while others exceed $100,000.

One early standout was the more than $900,000 paid to a British Columbia chief.

Some native leaders say the new law is no big deal — that they’ve long shared such details with their own members. The legislation just makes the disclosures open to all Canadians.

But others are chafing, saying they weren’t properly consulted as the Conservatives drafted the law. Some are also frustrated that sensitive band business information is being posted online and that they’re being singled out for salary disclosures.

“It’s a shameful insult and they should repeal (the law),” said Chief Louise Hilllier of the Caldwell First Nation in Southwestern Ontario.

Calling the law “totally unnecessary and discriminatory,” Hillier said “it’s nobody’s business how much we make because it’s not taxpayers’ money.”

Money paid to bands from Ottawa comes from treaty agreements, she said.

Grand Chief Gordon Peters of the London-based Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians said bands will continue to produce audited financial statements, as they always have.

“We have to jump through hoops for the federal government,” he said.

BIG PAYCHEQUES

Standouts among the early disclosures:

• Chief John Thunder, Buffalo Point First Nation in Mantioba, was paid almost $117,000 last year. He was charged with extortion by the RCMP last year.

• Chief Ron Giesbrecht, Kwikwetlem First Nation, in Coquitlam, made $914,000.

WHAT THEY SAY

“Personally, I felt (the Act) was unnecessary and discriminatory, but am I afraid for people to know what I make? No, I’m not. We’ve always done audits and posted them to our website and handed them out to our members at the general meeting.

“I don’t approve of it, but I don’t have anything to hide. I don’t approve of any legislation that the government of Canada comes up with for us. They say it’s for our benefit, but we’ve never benefited. It’s a shameful insult.”

Chief Louise Hillier, Caldwell First Nation

“Every time there’s a political battle that’s going to take place, like the Idle No More movement or environmental (policy changes), the Canadian government spends millions of dollars telling the Canadian public that we’re not accountable and can’t be trusted with our money.”

Grand Chief Gordon Peters, of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, an umbrella group for eight members nations in Ontario.

“We’ve been sharing our information for years. If anything, the greater community will see how underpaid and underfunded we are. We’re complex organizations, with local, municipal, provincial and federal governments all in one.”

James Jenkins, policy analyst, Walpole Island First Nation

THE NEW LAW

Name: First Nations Financial Transparency Act

What it requires: Bands had until July 31 to disclose financial audits and salary information; federal staff post the information as it comes in.

How it began: The Canadian Taxpayers Federation had pushed for five years to get First Nations to disclose chief and councilor salaries online. The Conservative government’s legislation became law last year.

Why the fuss? Many chiefs across Canada are angry, saying Ottawa didn’t work with them to draft the legislation.

What if bands don’t file? Ottawa can withhold money for recreation, business development or public works.

How is the law new and different? Bands are already required to file annual financial statements to the feds, including what they pay their chiefs and band councils. Many also distribute the information to band members. The new law requires the information to be shared with band members and the public.

How many of Canada’s 600+ bands have filed? That’s not clear. While disclosures are posted as they’re processed, an Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development spokesperson said it’s too early yet to tell how many bands filed by the July 31 deadline.

How can I access the information? Go to the Aboriginal Affairs home page and search First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

LONDON REGION NATIVE BANDS

•Aamjiwnaang (Sarnia)

• Caldwell (Leamington)

• Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point

• Chippewas of the Thames (Muncey)

• Moravian of the Thames (Thamesville)

• Munsee-Delaware Nation (Munsey)

• Oneida Nation of the Thames (Southwold)

• Walpole Island First Nation

Whose financials in this area are posted as of Tuesday, Aug. 5: Caldwell First Nation and Moravian of the Thames. Just because a band’s financials aren’t pubicly posted doesn’t mean they haven’t filed the information, a spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs said. The department is working on posting the filed audits online.

What the disclosures show: For year ended March 31, 2014:

Caldwell First Nation

Registered population: 351

Chief: Louise Hillier

Salary/benefits: $84,181

Moravian of the Thames (Delaware First Nation)

Registered population: 1,250

Chief: Greg Peters

Salary/benefits: $75,362

Walpole Island

Registered population: 4,682

Chief: Dan Miskokomon

Salary: $65,000

*Information not yet posted, but disclosed to QMI Agency.  

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