Morley resident wants return to one-chief system
FRUSTRATED WITH LACK OF ACTION FROM FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
Thursday, Feb 01, 2018 06:00 am
A group of Stoney First Nation members, desperate to put an end to inflated costs and leadership problems, have been circulating a petition to temporarily suspend the Chiniki chief and are calling on the federal minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, to step in to reinstate a referendum from 45 years ago. This time, they hope federal authorities take action.
The Concerned Citizens Committee hopes the referendum would see the Nation return to a one-chief system and dissolve chief, council and administration of the three bands – Bearspaw, Chiniki and Wesley – but Greg Twoyoungmen fears their complaints will be dismissed by federal authorities.
“If we do that we’ll save millions,” Twoyoungmen said, who has been writing to the government on behalf of the group for years. “Before they ignored us and were hoping we were going away but we’re not going away.”
Twoyoungmen cites problems in the bands dating back years including inflated salaries, misspending of the nation’s funds, and bias to supporters of the chiefs while those speaking out face reprisals.
According to the 2017 schedule of Remuneration and Expenses each Stoney chief received $127, 453 in salaries and claimed between $88,203 to 204,129 in expenses last year.
Many other sources have approached the Cochrane Eagle with similar concerns as Twoyoungmen but due to fears of reprisals none were willing to speak on the record. Some claim they fear the band would shut off their electricity or water.
Twoyoungmen said he decided to join the committee a few years back after he alleges the band discontinued sponsorship for his master’s degree he was close to completing through Athabasca University.
The group has written letters to the federal and provincial governments since 2015, though Twoyoungmen said the issue is continuously handed off to someone else.
“They keep passing the buck,” Twoyoungmen said. “They don’t want this brought to light. They don’t want all this information, all this abuse of taxpayers’ money. There’s millions missing and no one cares. And I think mainstream society and taxpayers should care, it’s their money.”
He points to the uproar over the lavish spending of former conservative cabinet minister Bev Oda, back in 2012, including a $14 glass of orange juice paid for with taxpayer dollars and the total spending amounting to a little more than $1,000.
“There was a big uproar over that but they’re not doing anything about the million(s) dollar deficit that Chiniki band has,” Twoyoungmen said.
The Stoney Nation is recognized as one band by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
The Stoney Nation voted in favour of joining the three bands under a one chief system in 1973 but the vote was nullified only months after in 1974 by a Band Council Resolution citing various reasons.
Though the switch to a one-band system may be cost saving, Lawrence Crawler, another committee member, said it’s about accountability.
Crawler explained the band operates on traditional customs, which includes unspoken regulations for their leadership and though in the past these values were honoured, it presently lets the council run rampant with band money.
John Reilly, a retired judge who once ordered an investigation into the political corruption and financial mismanagement on the reserve back in 1996, echoed the concerns of abuse of power.
“In my view the division of the community into three nations with three chiefs and four administrations – there is one for each of the nations and a fourth for joint matters – is a waste of money and human resources, and the biggest single impediment to social development on the reserve. There is no historical basis for this division,” Reilly said.
“I believe it is maintained by greedy men who want to be chief and have a better chance of getting one of three positions, than they do of getting the single position. If there were just one chief, hopefully he would be a man of sufficient stature and integrity that he would do something for the good of his people.”
The petition had garnered 20 signatures when Twoyoungmen sent it to the minister of Indigenous Affairs, but the list has since grown as it circulates the community.