Native Economics

CHATHAM – There’s outrage among members of a Southwestern Ontario First Nation after a forensic audit found nearly $250,000 in prize money couldn’t be backed up following a powwow to celebrate the band’s $105-million land claim settlement with the federal government.

The audit, demanded by the Leamington-based Caldwell First Nation as members suspended their chief and entire band council, also indicates the chief’s son received a $190,000 untendered contract to video the event last August and tell the story of the Caldwells and the repatriation of their land.

The Chatham Daily News obtained the audit findings by London-based Matson Driscoll & Damico Ltd.

Sources in the band, who didn’t want to be named, said many Caldwell members are angry about the findings, especially details about Chief Louise Hillier. “The general response is outrage,” one band member wrote by email, adding the chief and band councillor Lonnie Dodge — he signed the video services contract on behalf of the First Nation — should resign.

“I was shook to my very core when I read the forensic audit,” another member wrote.

Contacted Friday for comment, Hillier said she was going on a conference call and couldn’t speak.

Contacted again later, she refused comment. She said a news release would come, adding “I have nothing additional to add to that.”

Asked if the release would address concerns raised about her in the report, Hillier said she was driving and couldn’t talk.

The brief release included no comments by Hillier or other band council members, saying the audit was released to band members Sept. 1 ahead of a Sept 23 members meeting where “CFN members will determine next steps on actioning the conclusions and recommendations of the forensic audit.”

According to the report, expenses for the powwow totalled $576,111, but $289,276 of those were “unsupported” — with the largest portion $247,790 of the $281,750 in prize money awarded to dance and singer/drummer competitors at the event held in Leamington.

The auditors said they had “no information on winners beyond their names,” and couldn’t confirm the amounts paid out.

MP Cathy McLeod, the Conservative critic for Indigenous affairs, said she couldn’t speak specifically to the audit without seeing it, but that “what we’re seeing is another case where empowering band members with knowledge and information about the finances of their band is absolutely critical.”

She said the Liberal government has backed away from the former Harper government’s First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

A provision of that law — which the Liberals suspended in late 2015 — allowed Ottawa to withhold federal money for any band that failed to publish audited financial statements and to specify how much its chief and band councillors are paid.

The Caldwell audit report says the accuracy and authenticity of the powwow competition results couldn’t be confirmed.

It also noted a peculiarity involving Hillier withdrawing $324,900 in cash from the bank the day before the powwow for the competition payments. The auditors were advised Hillier took the money home with her where she and a relative prepared the competition payment envelopes.

The auditors were unaware of why a cash amount greater than the prize money payments was withdrawn, according to the report. It says several people who assisted and officiated at the powwow received cash payments for their services from some of the $324,900 withdrawn.

“It is our understanding that this is not typical behaviour for large cash amounts,” the report says. “Due to the lack of controls over the cash for the competition prizes, we are unable to determine whether any cash may have been misappropriated, and if so, when this may have occurred.”

The report noted a “significant area of concern” is the contract with Moccasin Media, owned and operated by Hillier’s son, David Hillier, to provide video production services. The report says discussions with council revealed no quotes were obtained for production services, beyond that of Moccasin Media, and the video contract was never brought to council for approval.

The report also indicates Dodge was of the opinion council didn’t have to vote on the contract, because it was within the ‘approved’ budget of $500,000 for the powwow.

Based on discussions with council, the contract included broadcasting the powwow for a one-year period, which was valued at $55,000. However, it appears Moccasin Media hasn’t been broadcasting the powpow, but is seeking a final payment of $20,000, according to the report.

With concerns over the chief’s involvement with the contract, including her requesting a $60,000 bank draft for a portion of the payment provided to Moccasin Media, without approval from any other council member, the report recommends a formal legal opinion be obtained over whether a conflict of interest exists.

It also recommends a legal opinion be sought whether Dodge breached his fiduciary duty to the band by acting outside the conventions of council.

Dodge did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment, and no other band councillors responded to the same email.

With files by Megan Stacey, Postmedia News

eshreve@postmedia.com

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Jack

Retired police officer.

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