A small B.C. First Nation that has come under scrutiny because of high salaries paid to some council members and other officials should offer a full explanation, says the office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
"Our Government expects First Nation band councils to use tax payer dollars responsibly and for the benefit of all community members. This is why we brought in the First Nation Financial Transparency Act," a statement from the minister's media office said on Friday. "Community members have asked for an explanation of the salaries of this Chief and councillor. They deserve that explanation."
The ministerial statement came after news reports that Shuswap Chief Paul Sam, his ex-wife, councillor Alice Sam, and two other family members had received more than $4-million in total remuneration over the past four years.
The reports were based on complaints about high salaries made by Barbara Cote, a band council member who is challenging Chief Sam in upcoming elections.
Ms. Cote could not be reached for comment, and a spokesperson for the Shuswap band declined to answer questions, saying a statement will be issued on Monday.
The report in the Vancouver Sun alleged that Dean Martin, one of Chief Sam's sons, is being paid an average annual salary of $536,000, and until his death in 2012, Randy Martin, another family member and an elected councillor, was making about $300,000.
Dean Martin, CEO of the Kinbasket Development Corporation, the Shuswap band's economic development arm, could not be reached for comment.
A financial report made public by the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs under the First Nation Financial Transparency Act shows that Chief Sam was paid $202,413 last year and Ms. Sam received $202,000.
Ms. Cote, the only other band councillor, was paid $57,700.
The financial disclosure statement does not include salaries for non-elected officials with the Kinbasket Development Corporation.
Shane Gottfriedson, Tribal Chief of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, said while the salaries are high, they have to be seen in a larger context.
"I think the bottom line is you've got to look beyond what they make and look at what they do for their community," he said.
"I think what Chief Sam and their administration team has done was basically turn their community, their reserve lands, into a thriving economic force within their region, which I think is remarkable," said Tribal Chief Gottfriedson. "I think it's very honourable what they do in providing resources for their community."
The Shuswap Nation Tribal Council represents nine bands in southeast B.C., including the Shuswap First Nation, which has 267 members, only about 80 of whom live on the reserve near Invermere.
But the small band punches above its weight economically, said Tribal Chief Gottfriedson, largely because of Kinbasket Development, which leases out retail space, does housing projects and invests in businesses, including a golf course.
"I think they are doing a fantastic job. ... They are maximizing their opportunities by developing sustainable economic developments...that will provide for their community for many years to come," he said.
Tribal Chief Gottfriedson, who gets $82,500 a year to run a much larger political structure than the Shuswap First Nation, said the salaries of Chief Sam and Ms. Sam are "an internal governance issue" for the band to determine.
He said Chief Sam does not have a pension even though he is one of the longest serving chiefs in B.C., with 34 years in elected office.
Tribal Chief Gottfriedson said Mr. Martin's reported salary is a separate issue.
"Well, Dean Martin is a CEO, he's not an elected councillor. So he's looking after running all their business and corporate affairs," he said. "When you look at what the band is doing I'd say he's doing his job and as CEO I think he's doing a remarkable job, branching out and looking at long term sustainability not for himself, but for the community."