Trudeau’s Gutting Of First Nations Financial Transparency Act Leads To Financial Chaos: “Nobody Knows Where The Money Is Going.”

As members of Bigstone Cree Nation fight for accountability and transparency, the decision by Justin Trudeau to suspend enforcement of the FNFTA is causing serious problems.

In December of 2017, I spoke with Travis Gladue of Bigstone Cree Nation.

As I wrote at the time, “Gladue is a former Serviceman with the Canadian Forces, and has members of his immediate family living in Bigstone Cree Nation. He is the head of the Bigstone Empowerment Society, which features 800 members both on and off reserve advocating for transparency and accountability from the Chief & Council.”

Travis Gladue

Gladue was seeking to get access to info on all business owned by Bigstone Cree Nation, and said info that should have been readily available to the community was not being provided.

As he said in a letter to federal minister Jane Philpott, “We have uncovered businesses owned by the band that has not been shared to members as well. Furthermore with this lack of transparency we will be advocating for an forensic audit to be conducted on Bigstone Cree Nation Entities for 2018.”

Since then, it seems that things have not improved.

Resignation of Board of Directors member leads to more questions

On February 24th, Gloria Anderson – a member of the Board of Directors and an officer on numerous Bigstone Cree Nation business entities – resigned from her roles tied to the businesses, while remaining as an elected Bigstone Cree Nation Council Member

In her resignation, she listed 27 business entities which are under either Bigstone Economic Holdings Ltd., or Bigstone Health Holdings Ltd.

Said Anderson in the resignation letter, “I believe that business and politics must be separate. I will not continue to serve as board of director when political decisions are made at board level, and sometimes not even at a board level.”

Anderson also said that for Bigstone Cree Nation businesses to be successful, they need to be “transparent and accountable,” adding that “a review of the current Bigstone Cree Nation businesses entities” and “corporate structure needs to be conducted.”

Increasing pressure from Bigstone Cree Nation community members

I recently spoke again with Travis Gladue, and Bigstone Empowerment member Dwayne Yellowknee about these latest developments.

Gladue said there was a lot of surprise when people saw the 27 businesses listed in Gloria Anderson’s letter, as many weren’t aware that so many businesses were owned by the community.

Gladue said there is now increasing “pressure from the membership about how many businesses are actually owned by the community.”

Dwayne Yellowknee

The need for answers stems from what seems to a larger communication issue from the leadership, with Yellowknee saying the “current council lacks communication,” and pointing out that “lots of the companies aren’t listed on the website.”

We also discussed the issue of the 2010 Treaty Land Entitlement deal between Bigstone Cree Nation and the Alberta government.

Gladue described it as being “like a code of conduct,” and it includes rules on elections.

Yellowknee noted that it should have been revised by the year 2015, and that there were “34 recommendations made by the Elections Code Committee,” but said revisions still have not taken place.

Now, with elections coming up in 2018, Yellowknee says changes wouldn’t take effect until 2022. This benefits the current council according to Gladue, because “the current code has no education requirements, and some current councillors would lack the necessary requirements under a new system.”

The way this ties into the financial aspect is that Gladue says that under the current council, many people “feel scared and intimidated to go to board meetings.”

As before, Gladue is calling for a forensic audit, and Yellowknee says the audit presentation given at band meetings is “very vague,” and when there was a request for a breakdown of the audit presentation, it amounted to “a five-minute PowerPoint presentation.”

Yellowknee notes that there seem to be “businesses that just a handful of people know about,” and says “leaders seem to get into an imaginary bubble” expressing “positions that are not supported” by facts.

And that’s where Trudeau’s decision to stop enforcing the FNFTA comes in.

Without FNFTA, financial chaos

Gladue said the situation seems to be “financial chaos,” and “nobody knows there the money is going.”

He described it as “onion like,” as there seem to be endless layers of businesses that have not been revealed.

Gladue summed it up very well, saying “why should band members have to take their Chief and Council to court to get information?”

And that lack of information extends beyond just businesses, with Gladue noting that Bigstone has filed a lawsuit against the province and federal government on education which cost $200,000 yet the “council told an elder they didn’t have $200 dollars to send them to a conference.”

That lawsuit was filed 6 months before the election, leading Gladue to wonder if it’s a political ploy to shift blame for problems in the community.

Without the strong enforcement mechanisms in the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, community members are less able to get the answers they are demanding.

It’s a big irony, since the Trudeau government considered the FNFTA ‘paternalistic,’ yet it seems the leaders of Bigstone Cree Nation are acting in a paternalistic way towards their own community members.

As a result, Trudeau’s abandonment of the FNFTA has the effect of abandoning community members.

As Yellowknee said of how things are going at Bigstone, “it’s only serving a small clique while the majority suffers,” which is quite similar to the way many people feel under the Trudeau government.

While enforcement of the FNFTA is not going to make a comeback under Trudeau, Glaudeu says there is a need to “consult with the grassroots and the people,” and “bands need to create something” with a “proper structure” to get accountability.

True leadership is needed

There is a need for transparency at all levels of government, as transparency and accountability are essential tools in holding leaders accountable.

True leaders support accountability, instead of running from it, and measures like the FNFTA – or local alternatives – should be welcomed, rather than suppressed.

Gladue summed things up well, with a statement that should be heeded by the leaders of Bigstone Cree Nation, provincial governments, and the federal government alike:

“Leadership is supposed to be about service and elevation of duty.”

If our leaders had that attitude, our community and our country would be a far better place, and it’s what all Canadians deserve.

Spencer Fernando

Photos – Provided