When an internal power play went public at Saskatchewan’s most influential native organization, the provincial government was careful not to inject itself into the controversy.
But Premier Brad Wall stepped in on Friday and ordered a review of buyout packages worth a total of about $600,000 that the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations offered to its former chief and his staff.
“We have concerns,” Mr. Wall told reporters. “We provide funding to the FSIN as a province, and therefore the taxpayers do, and it’s not meant to go for severance.”
Guy Lonechild, who was elected almost two years ago to a three-year term to lead the FSIN’s 74 first nations members, was suspended last month when the organization said he didn’t reveal a drunk driving charge before he ran for the top job in 2009. The charge became public earlier this year when he went to court and pleaded guilty, paid a $1,150 fine and turned over his licence.
Mr. Lonechild has said he told FSIN officials about the charge, which was laid a month before the election, and that he’s a victim of people in the organization who oppose his reforms.
He said he has attempted to create a more accountable, transparent and fiscally responsible FSIN. Honorariums and other perks were cut. Mr. Lonechild announced a $222,447 operating surplus for the 2010-11 fiscal year and said the FSIN was on track for the first time in a long time to being debt-free.
Mr. Lonechild said his approach “irked” some people, and after he was ousted during a meeting on Aug. 4, he turned to the courts to get his job back.
This week, the Court of Queen’s Bench ruled in his favour, but he returned to work only to be locked out of the building, which FSIN officials said was the result of a misunderstanding. Mr. Justice Ron Mills also ruled that a non-confidence motion slated for Thursday must be cancelled.
During an all-day meeting behind closed doors, a deal was reached for Mr. Lonechild and his five staffers to resign. Chiefs that participated in the meeting voted overwhelmingly in favour of the buyout, but a few voted against it and some abstained. The job of FSIN chief pays about $135,000 a year.
Details of the agreement were still being worked out on Friday, and the terms were “strictly confidential,” but sources said it amounted to about $600,000. Both sides appeared satisfied.
“We’re just happy for the organization and happy for Guy and his family to move on,” said first vice-chief Morley Watson, the interim chief.
“A lot of our energies were spent on issues that maybe took us away form the real battles that we have. Now, I’m sure we can focus on a lot of the issues that face our first nations people,” he added.
Mr. Watson said the FSIN will co-operate with the province’s request for a review.
During the 2010-11 fiscal year, the province was responsible for about $1,073,000, or 5 per cent of the FSIN’s overall $20-million budget.
Ken Cheveldayoff, Saskatchewan’s Minister of First Nations and Métis Relations, said provincial funds are set aside for specific initiatives such as education, child welfare and economic development, which are audited.
“We just want clarification and assurance that provincial government money isn’t being used and some details about where the money is coming from,” he said.
After the meeting, Mr. Lonechild suggested he was surprised by the offer, but agreed to the deal out of “security” concerns for himself and his family. He also said it was probably best if he didn’t return.
“What is good for the organization is that we no longer continue to fight amongst one another, that we’ll hopefully one day see a more brighter future where we won’t have internal disagreements and we can move on as an organization,” he said.
What happens now?
“I look for another job is what I do,” Mr. Lonechild said.