Another chief has nothing to hide

David Johnny Sr., chief of the White River First Nation, earns $44,000 annually.

David Johnny Sr., chief of the White River First Nation, earns $44,000 annually.

He volunteered this to the News this week, after making it clear he didn’t appreciate an ongoing series of articles on the lack of transparency among some First Nation leaders.

“You make it seem like I’m sneaking around,” he said, shortly before hanging up the phone.

In disclosing his salary, Johnny joins seven other Yukon chiefs whose salaries are part of the public record.

The pay of six chiefs remains secret – seven, if you include Grand Chief Ruth Massie, who also refuses to disclose how much she earns.

Johnny noted that, as the chief of a tiny First Nation without a land claim agreement, he earns far less than chiefs with settled land claims. Three of the chiefs who disclosed their pay earn twice as much as him.

In December, when the News first asked all of Yukon’s chiefs to disclose their pay, Johnny said he would consider it. “I’d have to ask the lawyers and council,” he said. “We don’t even give that information to the members.”

He noted at the time that he earned far more working as a heavy equipment operator, and he was lucky that his wife worked. But he didn’t call back until this week.

Three chiefs initially agreed to disclose.

Chief Math’ieya Alatini of the Kluane First Nation makes $82,000.

Chief Liard McMillan of the Liard First Nation makes $69,550.

And Chief Simon Mervyn with the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun takes home $85,000.

A week later, Chief Peter Johnston of the Teslin Tlingit Council phoned in. He had been out of town on business. He reported that he earns $70,000.

As well, Norma Kassi, chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin, earns $93,323. Her First Nation is the only one to disclose this online, through their published Government Act.

Chief Mark Wedge of Carcross/Tagish First Nations earns $105,750. He volunteered this information in February – but only after the News told him it would publish a figure provided by one of his staff.

And last week, Eddie Taylor, chief of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, disclosed he earns $89,000 annually.

The holdouts are:

* James Allen, chief of the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations;

* Brenda Sam, chief of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council;

* Darin Isaac, chief of the Selkirk First Nation;

* Mike Smith, outgoing chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation (Rick O’Brien won the chief’s seat in Wednesday’s election);

* Eddie Skookum, chief of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation; and

* Jack Caesar, chief of the Ross River Dena Council.

The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation caused a national stir in November by revealing that more than 700 chiefs in Canada earned more than $100,000 last year. Eighty-two received more than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who earned $315,462 that year.

Of the Yukon chiefs who have disclosed their salary, none make more than Premier Dennis Fentie, who was paid $134,903 in 2010. Yet many made more than Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway, who gets $77,000.

First Nation officials will frequently rebuff reporters’ requests for financial documents by explaining they only share this information with members. Some disgruntled members, in turn, will complain that they can’t access this information, either.

There’s a recourse for members of a First Nation that’s still under the Indian Act. If they complain to the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, federal officials will first try to work with the First Nation, but, if necessary, Ottawa will disclose the First Nation’s financial documents to members.

The federation has set up a website that shows how to do this, at www.reservetransparency.ca.

But it won’t be much use to Yukoners who belong to a First Nation with a final agreement. These agreements require chiefs to be financially accountable to their members. But Indian Affairs doesn’t police these rules.

In Ottawa, MPs are debating the merits of a private members bill floated by Kelly Block, the Conservative MP from Saskatchewan, to require First Nations to publicly disclose how much they pay their chiefs and councillors.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell opposes the measure. He worries it will further poison the relationship between the federal government and First Nations.

And even if the bill became law, it wouldn’t affect Yukon’s self-governing First Nations.

Bagnell is occasionally approached by a First Nation voter who is unable to obtain information from their government. “I remind them that it’s their government. It’s a democracy, and they need to hold their leaders accountable.”

With files from Richard Mostyn.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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