Sunday, September 21, 2014
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First Nations submitting financial records

By Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sound

The chiefs of the area's two First Nations say they have always submitted their financial records for public viewing, long before requirements under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act came into effect.

 

Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation Chief Arlene Chegahno and Saugeen First Nation Chief Vernon Roote both said Tuesday financial information about their bands have long been available online.

"Our audits have always been on the Indian Affairs website for the last 10 years," Chegahno said. "Even before it became the Transparency Act we were complying because Indian Affairs put it on their website."

Under the act, First Nations were given until July 29 to publish or submit their financial records.

As of last week nearly two-thirds of roughly 600 First Nations across Canada affected by the legislation had not yet complied. The federal government said they had until the end of November to comply or risk losing government funding.

Under the law, introduced in 2013, First Nations can either submit reports to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada for posting on the government website or post the information on their own website.

"We always have complied," said Roote, who was elected Saugeen First Nation chief in June. "We are the most micro-visioned people because our audits have always gone into Indian Affairs and Indian Affairs have always posted our audits for many, many years."

According to ANDC's website, information required under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act for Saugeen First Nation was posted on the department's website on Aug. 8.

The documents show for the year ending March 31, Chief Randall Kahgee took home salary and honorariums of just under $85,000 and expenses of just over $16,000 for a total of just over $100,000.

Councillors Bryan Johnson, Clint Root, Vernon Roote, Ken Roote, Sonya Roote, Letitia Thompson, Stacey John and Joanne Mason all received salary and honorariums of just over $50,000, while Coun. Randy Roote received a salary of just under $52,000.

Councillors also collected expenses that ranged from about $3,000 to almost $11,000.

As of Tuesday, information for the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation at Cape Croker had not yet been posted.

Chegahno said the information will be up shortly.

"Our audit is still in the process," she said. "We have got to comply. It will be up on our website and it will be on the Indian Affairs website once we send the audit in."

Chegahno said she has no problem with the information being made available for the public.

"As far as I am concerned there is no real opposition to it," she said. "It is something that we have to do now because of legislation."

Roote was a little less accepting of the act, saying it feels like First Nations are once again facing a double standard.

"Indian Affairs salaries are not posted, but yet we are requested to do that," he said. "What is wrong with the system?"

Documents released a couple of weeks ago revealed that Chief Ron Giesbrecht of the Kwikwetlem First Nation in B.C. was paid close to $915,000 last year.

The largest part of that came from an $800,000 bonus he received from a land deal with the B.C. government. The bonus stemmed from his role as the band's economic development officer.

Roote said there is a lot of unwarranted criticism of First Nations councillors because of that.

"There was one case across the country where an individual got bonus money in B.C.," said Roote. "Why am I being painted with the same brush? I don't get no bonuses."

Roote, who collected just over $61,000 in salary and expenses as a councillor, said council members should make more money considering all the criticism and judgment they face.

"The money that is being paid is not enough because of the abuse and the paintbrushing that takes place," he said.

"Individuals across the country want to know things about native people. It is none of their business. What they need to know is more about their own Parliament and their House of Commons, but they do nothing about them."

Roote questioned whether the requirements are meant to provide transparency or to spur criticism from outside First Nations communities.

"For our own people, we have our own process where we have audits. We have people that are within our financial system and there are membership people that belong to our community that work in our finance system," he said. "It would be different if we hire non-members to look after our finances. Then there would be doubt and lots of room for accusation, but it is our own people that look after our finances."

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