Dan Walton/Columbia Valley Pioneer
An audit has revealed that the chief and one councillor at the Shuswap Indian Band are among the highest paid in the province.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act was enacted earlier in 2014, which now requires First Nations to post online their audited financial statements for the last fiscal year. Among the new figures listed are the salaries of chief and council.
The numbers submitted by the Shuswap Band show Chief Paul Sam to have earned $202,413 over the period of 12 months, followed closely by councillor Alice Sam who earned $202,000. The third council member, Barbara Cote, was paid $57,700 over the same timeframe. The publication of these documents was initially delayed as the band changed auditors twice before submitting the report.
In contrast to the numbers submitted by the Akisqnuk First Nation, Chief Lorne Shovar and each member of his council were paid $18,200 (with exception to one council position that was fragmented by two band members, but funds were distributed evenly).
“We don’t want to be earmarked as a band that doesn’t meet its requirements to its people, because that’s the farthest thing from the truth,” said Chief Paul Sam’s son, Dean Martin, the chief executive officer of the Kinbasket Development Corporation (KDC). The KDC is a corporate extension of the Shuswap Band, to which every member is a stakeholder.
He said his father’s income has accumulated as a result of holding the position of chief for 34 years and for overseeing substantial economic prosperity.
“We’re one of the highest paid bands there’s no doubt, but it’s one of the richest bands,” he said.
The Shuswap territory encompasses roughly 2,500 acres. Amid economic distress in 1996, the band designated 500 of those acres for development.
“Through that designation, it opened up an opportunity for us to leverage that land for money to develop on,” Mr. Martin said. “This band did that the conventional way. We built our economy through hard work right here.”
Those developments have brought the band’s total asset value to $75,000,000, he said. Also worth taking into account, said Mr. Martin, are the travel costs and retirement savings of First Nations leaders, which he said accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of their income.
“In my mind, $140,000 or $150,000 (after considering the deduction of retirement and travel expenses) for 34 years of work on what these guys run — $75,000,000 worth of assets — they’re still underpaid,” Mr. Martin said.
But Barbara Cote, the lesser paid council member, finds these numbers deceiving.
“If we are so rich, I want to ask, where is the money?” she said.
The wealth that has accumulated through developments on Shuswap land has not benefitted the majority of the band’s members, she said.
“As a councillor, I have had an elder phone me for water in the winter.”
To help the elder get his water running, Ms. Cote said she went to the KDC to ask for help. “Apparently we had no money.”
But Gordie Martin, Shuswap public relations, refutes that claim, saying that members living on the reserve are not going without essential services. “We have the resources to help these people out and we do.”
Ms. Cote is very relieved by the results of the Transparency Act.
“We now have the numbers,” she said. “Some of our people are living in poverty, and it should never, ever have taken place.”
The Shuswap population does not elect their chief, but rather elects three council members. Once elected, those three councillors decide who takes the reigns of chief, and they also determine the level of compensation.
Asked why her salary was only about one-quarter of Alice Paul’s — the other Shuswap councillor — Ms. Cote said, “I am just as surprised as all of Canada that there was such a difference in honoraria. Personally, I would never have taken that much from the people who elected me to work for them. I would rather see that money go towards programs that help our community.”
Gordie Martin argues that the wages are fair.
“[Paul and Alice Sam are compensated] way below somebody working for 34 years at one job; it hasn’t even been kept up with the cost of living,” he said. Regarding Ms. Cote’s relatively low pay, he said “if you have a ball team, and you have a rookie coming in, unless it was Michael Jordan or something, would you pay a zillion dollars? No. You have to prove yourself.”
Ms. Cote said these issues haven’t been discussed at council because no formal meetings are held.
“We haven’t had a band meeting in eight years — only a chief can call a band meeting, and he hasn’t called one,” she said.
Gordie Martin denies this, stating council meetings are held every month.
The lack of leadership has caused the community to become dysfunctional, Ms. Cote said, and that the level of inequality has continually worsened in the past two decades. Along with her colleagues Alice and Paul Sam, Ms. Cote is also running for reelection.
Voting takes place on Saturday, Nov. 7. Also running for Shuswap council are Annanette Eugene, Pauline Eugene, Timothy Eugene, Rosalita Ita, Alice Sam, Paul Sam, Lawrence Thomas, Suzanne Thomas, and Dorothy Warbrick.