Liard chief declares final term in face of protests

Liard First Nation chief Liard McMillan is ignoring calls for his immediate resignation, but he did tell the News he has no plans to seek re-election when his term runs out in two years.

Liard First Nation chief Liard McMillan is ignoring calls for his immediate resignation, but he did tell the News he has no plans to seek re-election when his term runs out in two years.

A handful of protesters paced outside the Liard First Nation’s office last Thursday and Friday, saying they were fed up with McMillan’s leadership.

McMillian was elected to his forth, consecutive term in December, 2010. He was first elected in a 2003 by-election and is now in his ninth year as chief of the Watson Lake area First Nation.

“I don’t have a desire to run again for chief, after this,” McMillan said in a telephone interview Friday. “I have no aspirations of being a hereditary chief. I have been called upon by the citizens to fulfill a mandate.

“And for those who oppose me or want to get rid of me sooner, all I can say is I wish them good luck because I couldn’t even get rid of myself. I ran for territorial politics and I lost by 20 votes.”

Rose Caesar, who considers herself an elder-in-training, was one of the protesters who stood outside the First Nation’s office last Thursday and Friday. Although there were only five of them, Caeser said they received lots of encouragement from others who are equally frustrated.

“I walk on behalf of all the people that never showed up because they’re scared they’d lose their job, be cut off S.A. or be ridiculed,” she said. “We just want changes in the leadership because they’re not listening to people. Liard McMillan, he likes to manipulate and criticize his own people and I don’t like that, I never did. He’s become a dictator. He’s really in control. He’s not very respectful. And I got nothing to lose so I’m walking with a couple guys and I’m going to stand my ground.”

There are a number of things which need to be addressed besides McMillan’s leadership style, said Caesar.

With the amount of mining in the Watson Lake region, Caesar wants to know why there are so few jobs for members in the community.

“There is lots of spending on lawyers and consultants and we see no results,” she said.

McMillan agrees.

“Chief and council is as equally concerned as the membership,” he said. “It’s far from perfect and far from where we want it to be, but at the same time I think we have to recognize the progress that we are making.

“We do have a fair number of people working out at Yukon Zinc and North American Tungsten’s Cantung mine. We’ve done a number of very good training initiatives over the course of time.

“You’re not going to get everybody a job at the end of the day but if you can get a few people a job each and every time you try these new initiatives then that’s a good thing. The struggle’s ongoing with mining companies that need an education as well.”

And that struggle is all the more difficult, and expensive, for the Liard First Nation because it doesn’t have a land claim or final agreement in a territory where industry has come to expect it, he said.

“Our resources are stretched to the limit,” he said.  “We do spend a lot of time and money on lawyers and consultants, but what else can we do when we’re being called upon by our elders to do that – to protect our land and our aboriginal rights and title? There’s hundreds of developments that are happening within our traditional territory.”

But Caesar alleges McMillan is benefitting more from the mining boom than other Liard First Nation members.

She claims McMillan’s expediting company, Highland Gold Corporation, benefits from back-door negotiations with the First Nation and that he never declared his conflict-of-interest with his membership.

But McMillan said his company has never had a contract with his First Nation. He also said the conflict of interest was declared to both the council and the board of directors for the First

Nation’s development corporation.

His company only deals with a mining property that has been owned by his father, Alex McMillan, for over 15 years. It has only done business with Northern Tiger Resources and McMillan abstains from any votes or negotiations regarding either company or the property itself, he said.

Caesar also said McMillan recently fired the entire board of the Liard First Nation’s Development Corporation, leaving only himself in charge.

McMillan confirmed that a recent and unanimous vote in chief and council, following a resolution from a general assembly about one year ago, did dissolve the entire board and that he and one other councillor are acting for the board until there is a call for new members.

Caesar also said audits of the First Nation show diversion of programming money for staff wages.

She also charged McMillan is not fulfilling the oath he took when becoming chief – to be transparent and accountable.

McMillan said that’s not true. He sees this protest as a few individual who are trying to gain leverage over himself and his council. Throughout his years as chief, he has watched his community fall deeper and deeper into “this system of entitlement,” he said.

Systems like social assistance, which are supposed to help the needy, tend only to benefit the greedy who find ways of manipulating it, he added.

“It’s sad,” McMillan said. “Gone are the days when young people would cut firewood for their elders, their parents or even aunts and uncles. All too often the band office is being called upon to take that role even when these elders have young people at home who could do it for them. That traditional way of life is dying off as quickly as our elders are dying off.”

McMillan said he’s proud of many of his government’s achievements, including the most recent back-to-the-land program he announced for the community.

“I myself have a daughter,” he said. “My biggest legacy will be how I raise my child and I intend to raise her to be independent. The last thing that I’ll ever teach her or have her learn is how to come into the band office demanding social assistance.

“Between now and the end of my three-year term, I intend to do everything in my power to fulfill my mandate. I have always acted in good faith in that regard and have always worked hard and to the best of my ability. I believe I have been as accountable as I could possibly be.”

While noting that he would not put his community through a referendum or legal case, as has happened with other chiefs in the past, McMillan said he does intend to finish his final term with his head held high.

Due to the extremely cold weather on Monday, Caesar confirmed that she would not be continuing with her protest until it warms up.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com

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