Blame should fall on Liard chief’s shoulders, says predecessor

A former Liard First Nation chief is denying allegations of financial misconduct, saying it's a way for the current administration to avoid its own fiscal issues.

A former Liard First Nation chief is denying allegations of financial misconduct, saying it’s a way for the current administration to avoid its own fiscal issues.

In a news release issued Tuesday, current chief Daniel Morris announced Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada had placed the First Nation under third party management.

The department describes this measure as a last resort, to be taken temporarily to ensure the continued delivery of programs and services to the community.

In the letter, Morris blames members of the previous administration for putting the community in a financial hole and accuses the federal government of ignoring the First Nation’s needs.

“We were elected to manage the affairs of the Liard First Nation last December and we are shocked to find the previous administration left us with a financial ledger that borders on bankruptcy,” Morris wrote.

“We entrusted the former executive director, AANDC and the recipient appointed advisor to move us forward, yet, found ourselves repeatedly ignored.”

Liard McMillan, who served four consecutive terms as chief from 2003 to 2013, said he was pleased to see the federal government taking over the First Nation’s financial affairs and called the accusations baseless.

“It’s good to see the department of Indian Affairs taking action to put LFN into third party management, but I’m afraid it might be too little too late,” he said.

“Mr. Morris is trying to cast blame in order to avoid his past and basically rewrite history.”

The First Nation owes Aboriginal Affairs $708,000. Approximately $200,000 to $300,000 has already been repaid, Morris said.

McMillan believes the third party management situation was triggered by the First Nation’s inability to complete its audit for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, he said.

Another reason is the fact that LFN leaders have failed to submit a financial statement outlining their salaries, he added.

McMillan asked the federal government to perform a forensic audit of the First Nation about 10 years ago but says he was ignored.

Erin Macpherson, a communications manager for the federal department, said work with the community to make debt repayments has been ongoing for several years.

“This work has been aimed at supporting the First Nation in developing its capacity to manage its funding arrangements and has followed the progressive steps laid out in the default prevention and management policy,” she wrote in an email.

McMillan said he believes many of the First Nation’s financial troubles date back to Morris’s previous term as chief, between 2000 and 2003.

“My question for Aboriginal Affairs is if they put the First Nation under third party management now, and they perform this recipient audit, will they deal with the large accounts receivable owing from Mr. Morris or write it off the books?” he said.

In 2007, the First Nation accused Morris of having taken nearly $250,000 in inappropriate loans from the LFN government while he was chief. He was never charged, and Morris denies any wrongdoing.

“I did not steal or take any money or funding from the Liard First Nation office,” Morris wrote in a letter to the community during the last election campaign. “When I was chief, our government at that time helped out members. We gave out loans to members … some paid up their loans and some is still outstanding, and I took the rap for that.”

McMillan believes other dents to the First Nation’s cash flow have come from various court cases the community has been tied up in over the years.

Since December, there have been a number of lawsuits filed by vendors and service providers against the First Nation for unpaid funds, McMillan said.

While the previous administration found itself owing money to some of those vendors on a few occasions, the community always came up with repayment plans and “kept on the good side of things,” he added.

“I feel bad for my community,” he said.

“Mr. Morris and council rule with an iron fist approach. I believe the third party management will help stop the bleeding, for the time being. Long term, I’d like to see the community rise up and make their voices heard by demanding a byelection to replace the chief and council.”

Liard First Nation elder Dennis Porter agrees. He says the current leadership keeps its members in the dark.

“Leadership doesn’t know how to lead,” he said.

“They always walk away. I give Aboriginal Affairs credit for placing the First Nation under third party management. Now that they’re involved they can set the record straight.”

Porter said the lack of communication between administration and members means a lot of people don’t know what’s going on.

“I want to see the present chief and council resign and have a re-election,” he said.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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