Another chief’s pay on display

Eddie Taylor, chief of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation, earns $89,000 annually. That's less than he earned in his former job as the foreman of a road crew. "And I only worked four days a week," said Taylor.

Eddie Taylor, chief of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, earns $89,000 annually.

That’s less than he earned in his former job as the foreman of a road crew.

“And I only worked four days a week,” said Taylor.

He made the disclosure in the spirit of open and transparent government. In doing so, he joins six other Yukon chiefs whose salaries are part of the public record.

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

In December, the News asked all of Yukon’s chiefs to disclose their pay. Initially, three agreed.

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 its 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.

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, chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation;

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

* Jack Caesar, chief of the Ross River Dena Council; and

* David Johnny Sr., chief of White River First Nation.

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, 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.

There’s also a push underway in Parliament that requires First Nations to publicly disclose how much they pay their chiefs and councils. It’s Bill C-575, a private member’s bill floated by Kelly Block, the Conservative MP from Saskatchewan.

The bill passed second reading on Wednesday of last week, with the help of 15 Liberal MPs. Larry Bagnell, Yukon’s Liberal MP, was not one of them. He voted against the measure.

“There’s a lot of problems with it,” said Bagnell.

First Nations were not consulted during the drafting of the bill, and Bagnell worries that passing the law would poison the relationship between chiefs and Ottawa.

“The government just did a big apology to First Nations. It’s supposed to be a reconciliation. To insult them with a bill like this really belies the sincerity of that apology.”

Bagnell also maintained the bill is unnecessary because the Indian Affairs minister already has the pay schedules for First Nations, and the power to disclose it if he chooses.

“There’s nothing to stop him from releasing it. If the government was serious, he could have done that five years ago.”

And even if the bill became law, it would only affect three Yukon First Nations without settled land claims.

Bagnell is occasionally approached by a First Nation voter who is unable to obtain information from their own government.

“I remind them that it’s their government. It’s a democracy, and they need to hold their leaders accountable.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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