Following last week’s unprecedented disclosure of detailed financial information by First Nations across Canada, politics have become heated and personal in the small community of Kwikwetlem.
With only 80 band members, the impoverished First Nation in suburban Vancouver is split over the future of its sitting chief following revelations that Ron Giesbrecht collected nearly $1-million in salary last year. A group of locals is now calling for the chief’s resignation by the end of the week, promising to oust him if he doesn’t quit, and the most prominent critic has said he’ll run for the chief’s job.
The chief’s compensation was by far the largest contained in documents released since First Nations began disclosing salaries and other financial information last week as a result of a new federal law called the First Nation Financial Transparency Act.
In a series of statements, Mr. Giesbrecht has stood by his compensation, explaining that he collected an $800,000 bonus because his contract allowed him to take a 10-per-cent cut of economic development projects in the community.
Ron Jackman says he spoke with the chief over the weekend and is now prepared to run against him.
“He feels like he was in the right with what he did,” said Mr. Jackman, a 39-year-old student at the B.C. Institute of Technology who has emerged as a spokesman for those seeking to remove the chief. “Everyone is mad about it. I’ve put my name in to run. I’m willing to step down from my studies to support my people.” Mr. Jackman says the chief has indicated that he doesn’t intend to resign.
Last Friday a number of local band members protested the chief’s salary on the steps of the community’s council office. Despite community members receiving $10,000 each last month as the result of a land deal with the province, little is known of the $8.2-million agreement concluded in the last fiscal year.
“There is a confidentiality clause in the agreement,” said Corinna Filion, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. “Any financial benefit flows to the band and council, not any individual.”
Neither Mr. Giesbrecht nor any spokesperson for the Kwikwetlem government was willing to provide comment to The Globe and Mail, despite repeated requests.
According to an official working with the First Nation, Mr. Giesbrecht spent the weekend speaking with community members, taking calls and returning e-mails. Less than half of the Kwikwetlem First Nation lives in the small tract of parched land inhabited by the band; much of the rest live across the Lower Mainland.
Locals seeking the chief’s removal have started to gather signatures for a petition to call an emergency meeting to oust the chief. According to Mr. Jackman, they only need to gather the support of 49 per cent of the community to start the process.
Andrea Richer, a spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, expressed concern over Mr. Giesbrecht’s compensation. “The reported salary of the chief is very troubling and his community members deserve an explanation,” she said.
Mr. Giesbrecht has promised to provide information on “next steps” by Thursday. The chief’s opponents hope to have their petition ready by then.