Community members are growing louder in their call for Stoney Nakoda Nation (SNN) to open its books and answer questions of financial transparency.
A peaceful rally at the Stoney Tribal Administration building Thursday (June 22), organized by three band members with an open lawsuit against SNN, saw more than 50 community members travel from as far as Eden Valley to back the cause.
“When we talk about transparency and accountability, we want chiefs and council to be transparent in telling us the truth and getting the community involved in what’s happening with our Heritage Trust Fund (HTF), or bands funds that come from the federal government,” said Kenny Hunter, of Goodstoney First Nation.
Hunter is one of three band members, representing Goodstoney, Bearspaw and Chiniki First Nations, suing SNN, which governs the three bands under one Nation. Co-suing are Wanda Rider, of Bearspaw Nation, and Muriel Labelle, of Chiniki Nation.
The lawsuit calls upon SNN to release all missing financial documents from 2018-22 required under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, including audited staff salaries and expenses of chiefs and council and high-level executives employed by the Nation during that time.
Elder John Robinson (aka J.R.) Twoyoungmen said the community has a right to know about all inflow and outflow of band funds.
“We want to see what our leaders are doing; we want to see how our leaders are spending money,” he said.
“Are they spending it correctly? Are they spending it in a wise direction?”
Rumours of chiefs and council mismanaging band funds are rampant in the community, said Twoyoungmen, but they’re not being actively refuted.
The band members’ open lawsuit claims SNN has withdrawn $78.5 million from the Nation’s HTF since 2008, but where that money was spent has not been disclosed.
The statement of claim says another $40 million was taken out of the trust fund around 2020.
“This was done without consultation and approval from Goodstoney, Bearspaw or Chiniki band members,” reads the statement of claim.
Hunter said Goodstoney band members were not consulted about band leadership’s plan to build Goodstoney Meadows, a gas bar and shopping plaza currently being built off the Trans-Canada Highway.
The project was announced in 2022 and Hunter said construction is rumoured to cost about $5 million, which he believes was taken from trust funds.
Rider said Bearspaw band members also weren’t consulted when the band’s chief and council gained control of its oil and gas royalties from the federal government in 2021. The Nation is now suing the federal government for the slow release of funds resulting in claims of lost investments.
“There are some unanswered questions and there’s never any consultation,” said Rider. “We have to find all this out through social media.”
The band members’ lawsuit calls on SNN to release audited missing financial documents from 2018-22, but Hunter is also urging local leadership to engage in more frequent consultation with community members in the future.
“They didn’t say ‘let’s hold a meeting, what do people think? Let’s hold a referendum,’” said Hunter of the Goodstoney development. “They went ahead with the project, and they said it cost $5 million, which came out of the Heritage Trust Fund.
“There has been money taken out of the Heritage Trust Fund for various purposes that we do not know. Everyone has a right to know.”
None of the three chiefs or 12 councillors nor SNN staff were present at the rally. The Outlook has reached out to SNN and its legal counsel for comment, including to clarify project costs associated with Goodstoney Meadows, and will update this story when a response is received.
Hunter, Rider and Labelle’s matter was heard in court briefly June 15 and is expected to return July 10. The hearing was moved to allow more time for SNN to release all requested financial information.
By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jun 30, 2023