Kenny Hunter speaks at a rally calling on Stoney Nakoda Nation to be financially transparent and accountable to community members at the Stoney Tribal Administration parking lot in Mînî Thnî in June. File Photo/Rocky Mountain Outlook

The release of some of Stoney Nakoda Nation’s (SNN) consolidated financial statements in a lawsuit aimed at promoting community transparency is sparking more inquiry.

Kenny Hunter, one of three band members who filed the claim, said they are still seeking audited financial statements from 2022 – including wages and benefits of staff – plus another independent audit.

“Our hope is that if chiefs and council have nothing to hide, they will allow this independent forensic audit to be done,” said Hunter. “Our hope is that we are granted this independent audit so that we can see what’s really happening with all our finances.”

The lawsuit calls upon SNN to release all its financial documents from 2018-22 required under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, including audited staff salaries and expenses of chiefs and council and high-level executives employed by the Nation during that time.

Earlier this month, financial records from 2018-2022 were released to band members and posted to the federal government’s website.

Hunter called out discrepancies he found in the salaries of band government employees.

“The wages don’t really make sense,” he said. “They’re a little bit inconsistent to what they’ve had and their expenses are in many cases a lot more than their salaries.”

In 2018, according to a schedule of remuneration and expenses from SNN, each of the three chiefs that comprise Stoney Nakoda Nations – Goodstoney, Chiniki and Bearspaw – earned $125,217. Expenses between the chiefs ranged from $87,164 to $194,480.

Councillors earned $89,441 in the year with expenses ranging from $2,571 to $112,052. Total wages were $1.410 million and expenses were $1.136 million.

In 2020, chiefs earned between $129,112 to $133,112 with expenses ranging from $107,904 to $185,961. Some councillors’ expenses were higher than the chiefs expenses and salaries. Compared to records from 2018 and 2019, the expenses of some of the same councillors had tripled.

“From what I’m seeing, these expenses are shocking,” said Hunter. “They’re quite high. So, you’ve got to wonder what all these expenses are for.”

Hunter said he would like to see an independent audit review expenses from that time, breaking down costs of travel, hotel stays and other charges.

The salaries and benefits of other staff working for the Nation is also unclear, he added. The number of CEOs and CFOs working for SNN but not from the Nation is a concern voiced by many in the community.

Band government salaries and benefits, including chiefs and council, totalled $5.816 million in 2019, $5.984 million in 2020 and $5.863 million in 2021.

In 2021, wages of chiefs and council totalled $1.217 million and expenses $1.078 million. The other $3.68 million is split between four CEOs – one dedicated to each band and one which oversees all three, plus four CFOs and other members of administration.

“A lot of people complain that they should abolish the current tribal common CEO and CFO because each band has their respective band administrators already,” said Hunter.

“There’s just too many of them being paid high salaries and those monies can be better spent here on Nation members, creating other jobs.”

The consolidated financial statements report the revenues and expenses of all SNN entities, including Stoney Education Authority, Stoney Health Services, Stoney Nakoda Resort, Nakoda Emergency Services and various others.

The statements were audited by external auditor Crowe MacKay LLP, which audited all publicly available SNN finances dating back to 2014.

Hunter and other litigants Wanda Rider and Muriel Labelle are calling on SNN to allow a review from another external auditor to occur.

They’ve also come up with a suggested list of rules and ethics for the Nation’s elected officials to follow. Hunter said the list was created in consultation with Îyârhe Nakoda elders.

“There is no band council resolution, no ethics committee in place to keep our elected officials accountable,” he said.

The rules are based on principles of fairness, honesty and respect.

The first of the 15 recommendations calls for consultation and referendums to be held with the community before any decisions are made regarding business ventures on reserve lands or funds to be taken out of trusts held in Ottawa.

Another suggestion seeks the creation of “fair and equal” boards or committees for each department SNN oversees, including health, education, housing and others.

“This is desperately needed in our community so we can hold the people we vote in power accountable,” said Hunter.

Since it was enacted under the Stephen Harper conservative government in 2013, many First Nations have been critical of the FNFTA, also known as Bill C-27. It’s received much backlash due to a lack of consultation with First Nations from the federal government before it passed. 

Hunter and fellow litigants Wanda Rider and Muriel Labelle are suing on the grounds that SNN neglected publicly releasing information mandated by the act, including through in-person requests.

In 2015, the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau announced it would no longer enforce the act. Instead, it would focus on fostering relationships with First Nations and would restore any federal funding withheld from non-compliant First Nations by the Conservative government.

In an affidavit filed by SNN CFO Daryl Sands, a statement by former federal minister in charge of Indigenous affairs Carolyn Bennett was highlighted from 2015 criticizing the act and in it, Bennett says in keeping with the government’s commitment to a Nation-to-Nation relationship, any court actions against First nations “who have not complied with the act” would be suspended.

“Transparency and accountability are paramount to any government, whether it is municipal, provincial, federal or First Nation,” Bennett said in the statement. “We will work in full partnership with First Nations leadership and organizations on the way forward to improve accountability and transparency. This cannot be achieved without the engagement of First Nations and its members.”

A report was released by the federal government in 2017 recommending a repeal and update of the bill, as well as the launch of a public relations campaign to dispel misconceptions about First Nations transparency and accountability, but no action has been taken yet.

The matter concerning SNN and the trio of band members was briefly heard in court July 10 but was adjourned to Sept. 6 to allow more time for disclosure review.

Calgary lawyer Paul Reid of Carscallen LLP, representing Hunter, Rider and Labelle, declined to comment at this time but confirmed the firm’s auditor would also be reviewing all information submitted by SNN.

The Outlook reached out to legal counsel representing SNN for comment but has not received a response.

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 20, 2023 at 14:43

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta
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