By: Cam Fortems
Release of First Nations financial documents by the federal government shows a wide discrepancy in salaries of regional First Nations leaders, ranging from a high of $80,000 to a low of $45,000 — with little relationship between the size of the community and the chief’s income.
Tk’emlups Indian Band released its financial information last month showing Shane Gottfriedson, chief of the prosperous band of 1,050, earning $82,000 a year. The band oversees millions in assets, including an industrial subdivision and the Sun Rivers golf community.
Not far behind Gottfriedson is Nelson Leon, chief of Adams Lake Indian Band, at $80,000 a year. The band has 700 members.
The lowest salary collected by a First Nations leader in the region is Ron Ignace, who leads Skeetchestn Indian Band. Ignace, who has held the position on and off for decades, earned $45,000 in the most recent year.
Skeetchestn has about 500 members. Councillors, at $43,000, earn only slightly less than the chief.
Felix Arnouse, who has led Little Shuswap band for more than 15 years earns $71,000.
There are only two councillors and a chief at the band. It has 300 members.
The typical band has six members of council.
Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, said Gottfriedson’s salary would be “on the higher end” for B.C. chiefs, but added it’s difficult to determine what an appropriate salary-to-population ratio would be because band salaries are so varied.
While regional chiefs are making five figures, Bateman said some of the province’s First Nations leaders make as little as $3,000 in salaries, while the chief of the 82-member Kwikwetlem Indian Band in Coquitlam, took home almost $1 million in pay.
“It makes it really difficult to figure out what is the average salary and what are the best practices for paying a chief and council,” Bateman said, adding the filings don’t show whether chiefs are also acting as band managers or economic development officers, or what activities they are spearheading for their members.
“You want to reward people who, frankly, are working hard to find non-government money, who are working hard to diversify their economic portfolios and doing a good job for the families on their reserves.”
Chief Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith band earned $69,000. It has about 600 members, according to the province.
She said band council salaries are well known within the community. The rate for councillors varies by the numbers of meetings they attend.
The low within the band is Martin Sauls, who earned $25,000. Two other councillors — Joan Manuel-Hooper and Frank Denault — each earned $60,000.
Salaries earned by chief and council are not taxable.
“Martin [Sauls] is there on and off,” Wilson said. “He had other personal income not reflected there.”
Wilson said under new election rules, councillors are considered full-time. It will not be suitable, she said, for a band member who works outside.
“Now council can’t hold outside jobs. We had a councillor working three days a week and was only available [for band business] two days and evenings,” Wilson said. “How can you run a government table that way?”
Like other First Nations leaders, Wilson said band councillors cannot be compared to municipal councillors.
They have more complex portfolios, including education, heath and social services, that demand full-time attention.
Bateman said the CTF is hoping the salary information will lead to more band members voting and holding their leaders accountable.
“I think it’ll have a big effect,” he said.
“The Kwikwetlem chief has already changed the way the band will be paying him in the future, so there’s a change for the positive. And we’ve seen across the country on other reserves, elections run on what chiefs are being paid.”
By the numbers: Regional First Nations salaries:
Shane Gottfriedson, Tk’emlups (pop. 1,050): $82,000
Nelson Leon, Adams Lake (pop. 700): $80,000
Felix Arnouse, Little Shuswap (pop. 300): $71,000
Judy Wilson, Neskonlith (pop. 600): $69,000
Rita Matthew, Simpc (pop. 640): $58,000
Ron Ignace, Skeetchestn (pop. 500): $45,000