At least 30 aboriginal band chiefs received more pay than the average after-tax income of Canada's provincial premiers in 2008-09, according to data obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Using federal Access to Information laws, the organization asked the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs to provide the salary information for every band chief and councillor in Canada.
In response, the CTF received a list of salaries for the chiefs. The names of the chiefs and their locations were withheld and there was no information provided about money given to band councillors.
"It's disappointing, it's not appropriate," CTF Prairie director Colin Craig said in a telephone interview on Monday. "No matter what a politician's race, their earnings should be made public. That's how voters can hold those people accountable."
The government's response to the CTF did not include money that the chiefs received from band-owned enterprises and other funds set up with public dollars. Even so, 30 chiefs on the list took home more than $109,893 in 2008-09, which was the average after-tax income for Canadian premiers in that year. After-tax income was used because the chiefs pay no federal income tax.
The Taxpayers Federation says that means those chiefs are being paid the equivalent of more than $170,000 - more than the mayor of Toronto, who makes $167,800.
Grand Chief Ron Evans of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs pointed out on CTV's Power Play that the average salary made by Canadians chiefs is about $60,000 and the issues that they have to deal with, including land claims, health care, and overcrowded housing, are stressful.
Chief Evans said he was glad that the taxpayers' federation has raised the issue because it is important to have a public discussion.
But, unlike the premiers, he said, the chiefs don't get a pension once they leave office.
He invited critics to work with the chiefs to level the playing field "to make sure we have pensions in place once we are out of office."
But Mr. Craig said he believes the number of chiefs who took home more than the average premier is actually much higher because band-own enterprises contribute substantial amounts to their overall remuneration.
"When you actually pull out the salaries for chiefs and councillors, there's more than just those two columns [salaries and honoraria]" Mr. Craig said. "Quite often they get money from economic development accounts which are largely set up through taxpayer subsidies. And then they have band-owned enterprises and travel accounts and all that. So the federal government chose to ignore all that."
For example, the information released by the government shows that the chief of the Peguis Reserve, the largest First Nation community in Manitoba with a population of approximately 7,200 people of Ojibway and Cree descent, received $126,030 in salary. But the Taxpayers Federation said it has documents to show that the chief received an additional $48,200.
"We know those amounts can be quite sizeable," Mr. Craig said. "There was one politician who had $203,000 that was in one of those other columns. So, to exclude those amounts, is a pretty serious omission of data."
Still, the information provided shows there are some chiefs earning large amounts of money, especially in light of the fact the population of bands is often not much bigger than that of a small town.
"I have got a couple of people saying, 'Wait a minute, are you suggesting every chief is corrupt?' " Mr. Craig added. "No far from it. ...We're just saying make this information transparent."