The chief of Alberta's Blood Tribe, along with a dozen councillors, collectively received more than $2-million in compensation and travel expenses in the past fiscal year – a figure a handful of band members, including former political leaders, argue is inappropriate.
Blood Tribe Chief Charles Weasel Head made $101,168 in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2015, according to the band's financial statements prepared by external accounting firm MNP LLP and released as part of Canada's First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
Each councillor on the southern Alberta reserve made $91,989. However, when their travel expenses and other forms of compensation are included, the collective total hits $2.13-million, according to the financial statements. Chief Weasel Head's total remuneration and expenses amounted to $133,130 in the fiscal year, the lowest on council. Councillor Frank Black Plume's total, after adding in travel expenses and the other forms of compensation, was $210,982, the highest on council.
Compensation for First Nations officials has become a sensitive topic since the federal government passed legislation forcing bands to publicly release financial statements. In British Columbia, for example, more than 12 chiefs received compensation exceeding $100,000 in the past fiscal year, according to documents filed under federal transparency rules. Critics – whether First Nations or otherwise – charge that some chiefs, councillors and other band officials collect rich compensation and post excessive expenses despite poor conditions on their respective reserves.
The Blood Tribe band has about 12,000 members, with between 10 per cent and 12 per cent living off the reserve.
Harley Frank, a former Blood Tribe chief, wants the band's leaders to explain the expenses and be more transparent.
"The salaries should match the governance structure," Mr. Frank said, arguing it "doesn't make sense" that the politicians are paid more than $90,000 to govern an on-reserve population of about 7,000.
"If you're getting paid that kind of money, I expect tremendous results," he said. "And then you have people who are living hand to mouth."
Keith Chiefmoon, a former councillor, is also among the critics. "There's no justification for why that much money was spent."
However, Councillor Mike Bruised Head, who serves as the chairman of the finance committee, argues the travel expenses should not be compared with those posted by other municipal officials, such as city councillors.
"They go five, 10, 20 blocks to their meeting place. We have to travel to Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Ottawa to meet with officials," he said. "We have to travel to where the funding agencies are headquartered.
"It would be easy just to stay on the reserve and do nothing, but we don't have a choice."
Further, Blood Tribe officials, he said, travel internationally in an effort to drum up investment and meet with their Blackfoot Confederacy counterparts in the United States.
Mr. Black Plume, for example, said he spent between $6,000 to $7,000 to go to Los Angeles to meet with a Japanese firm that invests in the band's agriculture business and purchases its hay products. He also examined a transport facility there as the band considers building a similar structure in hopes of finding a way to more efficiently ship its hay – shifting to rail rather than using trucks.
"I'm here to work for my people," Mr. Black Plume said. "That's what I'm doing."
The Blood Tribe's biggest expense in fiscal 2015 was salaries and benefits, which clocked in at $45.96-million, according to the financial statements. (This exceeded its 2015 budget by about $669,850).
Chief Weasel Head was unavailable for comment. The chief and council are elected officials.