Divided Sheg council at odds over motions and transparency

SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—The four members of the Sheguiandah First Nation chief and council met at the end of January (on neutral territory in Sudbury) for a duly convened council meeting, but neither chief nor council were pleased with the result.

Councillors Derek Assiniwe and Kevin Mishibinijima have been on the outs with Chief Aguonie and Councillor Jake Ago neh since the summer, taking their protest of what they considered poor band management to the street, protesting along Highway 6 until late fall and refusing to participate in council meetings. The pair have stated in previous interviews that they would continue their non-participating protest until the chief resigns, but Chief Aguonie says he is going nowhere.

According to the chief, the four members of chief and council met for the January band council meeting with five officials from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), and with an auditor from the accounting firm KPMG. The meeting was chaired by Gloria Lalman of AANDC.

The purpose of the meeting was to see six band council resolutions passed, the chief explained in a letter to band members. The first was to transfer $20,000 from the Casino Rama funds account to pay for brushing to install a new hydro line to the community’s reservoir. The second was to transfer $80,000, also from the Rama account, to the First Nation’s general account. The chief explained that these funds pay for the winter carnival, recreation activities, the powwow, Christmas feast and gifts for the community’s children and elders, minor hockey and the new rink (Sheguiandah is required to pay one-third of the cost of the rink through government funding).

The third addressed Raising the Spirit, a mental health wellness program based out of Sudbury which offered Sheguiandah $12,000 to make the program available through its health centre. The fourth item dealt with a Sheguiandah request for a transfer of $34,000 through Aboriginal Affairs from the Ottawa Trust Account to pay for a new fire hall to house the volunteer fire department. The fifth resolution focussed on Mnidoo Mnising Power and Northland Power requesting that Sheguiandah pass a resolution regarding the First Nation’s involvement with the McLean’s Mountain wind turbine project. “The agreement is in place for a 20-year period,” the chief writes. “Over the life of the agreement, Sheguiandah First Nation (SFN) would have received approximately $11 million. The project will move forward whether SFN signs or not.”

These motions were all voted down by Councillors Mishibinijima and Assiniwe.

Lastly, KPMG presented the SFN audit. Chief Aguonie said, “this audit dismisses Derek Assiniwe and Kevin Mishibinijima’s allegations of financial mismanagement. Unfortunately, it is not good enough that a financial institution (KPMG), known worldwide, did our audit. Assiniwe and Mishibinijima have now sent our audit to their lawyer to scrutinize. This is just another stall tactic,” he claims.

The chief alleges that because the audit was not signed off, the community is losing out on close to $1.1 million in funds, the aforementioned amounts plus another $540,000 from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, an additional $200,000 from AANDC and another $400,000 from the Casino Rama funds.

The chief said that because of the lack of access to funds, the winter carnival, Shta-ta-ha Days, would be cancelled this year. “There are a lot of community members that are pretty upset right now,” he said.

Chief Aguonie attempted to call another meeting of council on Monday of last week, but Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima did not attend.

“I have already contacted our Toronto lawyers for an opinion as to the next step, whether we will need a judicial review to overturn the six motions (made by the two councillors) from the January 28 meeting,” Chief Aguonie told The Expositor.

In speaking with Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima, The Expositor was told that at the January 28 meeting, the pair was not given an advance copy of the six resolutions and said that they were expected to sign off without having read the copy first. Partway through the council meeting, however, the councillors were given the six resolutions to read.

“When we asked for copies, this request was denied, unless we agreed to pass these resolutions,” the councillors told The Expositor in a letter. “Copies would only be provided after we provided our signatures. In the end, the chief provided us with these band council resolutions (BCR), only after Canada (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) intervened.”

“When the audit was about to be presented, the chief attempted to have us sign off on the audit, prior to the auditor making their presentation,” the councillors continued. “We had not obtained copies of the audit at this point in time, and it would be foolish for us to sign off on this band’s administration when the only thing we know for certain is that they are dysfunctional.”

“In the beginning, the chief told us that we had to pass all five BCRs in order to be able to see the audit,” they wrote. “Essentially, he misrepresented the truth when he told us these BCRs must be signed since they were already reflected in the audit. Much later in the meeting, we finally obtained copies of these BCRs. It turns out only one BCR contained spending reflected in the audit, and that BCR was unclear as parts of it were re-written in pen.”

“The chief is stating we are responsible for $1.14 million being withheld by the government or other related entities,” they continue. “This is the first we have heard of this, as he hasn’t reported this information to council. We learned about this sizable figure in a newsletter he sent out to the community and posted on the Internet.”

As for the resolution regarding the wind farm project, the councillors say the community had not been informed of the issue.

“The audit was due months ago,” the councillors continued. “Any attempt on the part of the chief to blame us for its delay is wrong. The audit, as presented to us on January 28, 2013, was incomplete. Our lawyer is following up with the auditor to ensure our concerns are heard. We look forward to approving the audit as soon as it is completed. Information to the contrary is an attempt to discredit us and our positions as councillors. Our job is to ensure that the band’s administration is functioning properly, and this has been a difficult task as we continue to be subject to a baseless smear campaign.”

Alicia McCutcheon

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