The chief of a tiny Nova Scotia reserve defended her quarter-million-dollar compensation as fair value for her work, but acknowledged that she and other leaders will have to be more transparent after a blast of anger swept through the community.
Shirley Clarke, chief of the Glooscap First Nation northwest of Halifax, confirmed that she and her councillors were among the unidentified people listed in a recent Canadian Taxpayers Federation analysis of the highest-earning native leaders.
"Our duties are very vast here," Ms. Clarke told reporters Thursday, the morning after a heated meeting with reserve members. "For us this is not a job, this is where we live."
Ms. Clarke runs a reserve of 87 people. The first nation also includes another 217 living off-reserve.
"I'm just so disgusted at what these people are doing," said Glooscap member Sharon Morine, who lives nearby and was visiting her son on the reserve Thursday. "Look at what they got. They got big houses and big cars. What have the little people got? Nothing."
As chief in 2008-09, Ms. Clarke received a total tax-free compensation of about $243,000. Her councillors, some of whom filled more than one job, got a total of between $210,000 and $260,000 each. And on top of his political work, one councillor, Mike Halliday, earned an additional $718,000 through band-awarded contracts.
"To manage a reserve of about 300, that is extremely generous," said Kevin Gaudet, director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. "I'm not able to vote in those elections, but if I could I sure as hell would make an issue of the fact that a leader is making that much."
The chief said the criticism was unfounded. The compensation packages included salary, travel expenses, housing support and unspecified honoraria, she said, and Mr. Halliday's extra earning was paid out of band-generated revenues.
Official figures released later by a public-relations person hired by the band showed that $87,500 of each politician's total compensation came from band-generated revenues.
But regardless of the source, some locals are appalled that so much money is going to politicians instead of being spread through the community.
Businesses on the reserve include a variety store, a gas bar popular with non-natives and a smoke-filled "Entertainment Centre" with a handful of VLTs. Extreme poverty is not evident and some homes have pools, trampolines or RVs. But other properties are much more modest, suggesting that benefits of band-owned ventures have missed some residents.
Several Glooscap members would not speak on the record, saying that the community was run by a cabal that penalizes dissenters. Others said that, while they were surprised by the salaries, the council should be applauded for trying to be more open.
"The chief is trying to make everything right," said Donna Labradore. "It's not okay [the compensation] I'm not making that much. But at the same time I'm not chief."
Ms. Clarke said they called on Chief Terrance Paul of Membertou First Nation, which has met internationally recognized governance standards, for advice on future compensation. She also lashed out at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for drawing attention to the issue.
"They have singled out native communities in a way that deepens prejudice and reinforces stereotypes, and that is not fair," she said.
Mr. Gaudet, with the lobby group, dismissed that as a predictable response. "It is blowing smoke," he said. "But it's the usual reaction. Any time anybody in the aboriginal community gets caught with their hand in the cookie jar that's what you hear."