In the week since his pay of nearly $1-million was disclosed under a new federal law, Chief Ron Giesbrecht says he has gained the support of most of the 82-member Kwikwetlem First Nation and on Thursday dismissed calls for his resignation.
The chief earned $914,219 last year, according to financial information disclosed under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. Mr. Giesbrecht was paid $84,800 for his work as the community's chief and economic development officer; the remainder of his pay came as a result of a 10-per-cent cut he received on all projects in the reserve.
In his first public statement since his compensation was revealed, the chief wrote on the band's website Thursday he is "one of the lowest paid chiefs in the country" and faced only four calls for his resignation among the community's 57 voting members. He made no mention of the $800,000 bonus at the centre of the controversy.
"What happened is I took over economic development and in that economic development contract there is a 10-per-cent bonus. To our amazement, we never expected to make so much money in one year," Mr. Giesbrecht told CBC Radio's The Early Edition, also Thursday. "We don't make the rules, we follow them."
The chief said he was aware of the bonus in his contract before he took the position and because of the band's "open-door policy," all members of the community were also aware.
Because the income was tax free, the chief's salary is comparable to $1.6-million in taxable earnings, far in excess of any other elected officials in Canada.
"I honestly don't understand it," he told CBC of the reaction. "I'm kind of surprised that the taxpayers have reacted that way."
While he intends to stay on as economic development officer, the 10-per-cent bonus provision was removed from his contract last April.
Few members of the struggling Vancouver-area band have spoken publicly since the revelation. Reporters attempting to speak with locals living along the community's one dirt road have been escorted off the band's territory by members of the First Nation's administration.
Along with the chief's statement on Thursday, the band council released a number of heavily edited videos from community members in support of Mr. Giesbrecht.
"I know it looks like he did get a big payout, but if you turn around and think about it, his contract was given to him; he didn't go in there and take the money; he didn't ask for the money," says the chief's brother, Randy Giesbrecht, in a video released by the First Nation.
Mr. Giesbrecht spoke with only three reporters on Thursday. A band official said the chief had selected to speak only with people "he trusts and has spoken with in the past."
Band member Ron Jackman, who says he represents those who want the chief removed, said Thursday a petition is being gathered to hold an emergency meeting to force Mr. Giesbrecht to quit.
Mr. Jackman said he wasn't ready yet to challenge the chief's claim that only four members opposed him because he didn't know whether the chief had swayed some community members. "I'm not happy with his statement today to the press," he added.