Steph Crosier, The Sault Star
Transparency is nothing new for Batchewana First Nation, said Chief Dean Sayers.
“We are more transparent than any other form of government in Canada,” Sayers told The Sault Star Sunday. “Our reports, you would not believe the amount of energy that we spend in our financial accounting processes based on our contribution agreements, that no other municipality has to go through.
“We do hundred of reports, financials … We are more transparent than most people realize, and have always been.”
July 29 marked the deadline for Canadian First Nation bands to submit, or make public, audits of their leadership as part of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act (FNFTA). If a band did not submit audits on time, it would have received formal reminders, and, after 120 days, could have government funding withheld.
“This act is one example of how our government is taking action to ensure First Nations have access to information detailing how public funds are spent in their communities,” Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs Northern Development, said in a release. “It also is a further step in our commitment to encourage transparency and accountability in First Nations governance, and does not increase reporting requirements.”
The ministry confirmed that most First Nations have submitted audits, but hasn't uploaded all of them to its website yet.
“We've received 236 applications altogether, only 199 right now are available online,” Erica Meekes, press secretary for the ministry, told the Star late last week. “So, the balance between that is what we are preparing to put online right now.
“There may also be cases where First Nations have complied by putting that information online themselves and we'll be making sure that we know who those are, as well. But, right now, that kind of plays with our final numbers a bit.”
Batchewana has submitted its audit, conducted by BDO Canada. It is available online on the ministry's website: aadnc-aandc.gc.ca
Sayers said although transparency is positive, he doesn't see why it is important for the rest of the country to see the results.
“We, as a people, have the right to determine our destiny, and it's up to our people, it's up to transparency within our communities, our nations,” Sayers said.
Batchewana leadership travels to the different communities within the band to give quarterly reports, and they have public meetings every two weeks, Sayers said.
“The settler government has no business telling us how to operate as a nation,” Sayers said. “What they are doing right now is pinning mainstream society against us. I see so many reports that are really twisting and misinterpreting the legislation, and the results of the legislation, and it's painting the wrong picture.”
At the end of July, when the first set of reports were being processed, the audit from Kwikwetlem First Nation showed that Chief Ron Giesbrecht was paid $914,219 in remuneration with $16, 574 for expenses.
In comparison, the Batchewana salary report submitted to the ministry states Sayers received $47, 661 in remuneration and $32, 764 in expenses in 2013. Sayers agreed the report from Kwikwetlem First Nation is troubling, but he can't comment on its business.
“It's not my place to tell them how to do their business in their nation,” Sayers said. “That's their transparency, that's their issues. I know in our community, people all know my salary, they know our council, and what they receive.”