The Liard First Nation’s embattled relationship with its third-party manager will continue in court.
It’s been almost two years since Ottawa appointed a manager to straighten out the First Nation’s financial mess.
Yesterday morning, the First Nation sent out a news release announcing it was seeking a federal judicial review of the decision to re-appoint the same manager to oversee the First Nation’s affairs.
Chief Daniel Morris claims the manager, Ganhada Management Group, has breached its legal obligations to both the First Nation and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
“The third-party manager is supposed to work with the First Nation and AANDC on a management action plan,” Morris said yesterday.
“They didn’t fulfill those duties with us. They’ve never met with chief and council.
“There hasn’t been any contact and no information sharing.”
The Liard First Nation claims Ganhada hasn’t spent funds that had been earmarked for housing renovations, and that its accounting practices had been questioned by an auditor.
It took more than seven months for the third-party manager to be allowed inside the First Nation’s band office, according to Liard First Nation citizens.
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada describes the measure as a last resort, to be taken as a temporary measure to ensure the continued delivery of programs and services to the community.
Morris said legal action was not the preferred path for the First Nation. It would much rather speak with Carolyn Bennett, minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to “see how we can work through this.”
“It’s easier to go down that road than to spend money going to court,” he said.
When the parties met in Whitehorse in January, Morris said, he explained the First Nation’s situation to her.
His understanding was that Bennett was sympathetic to the First Nation and that she said third-party management wasn’t beneficial to First Nations.
Morris also suggested the third-party manager be replaced with Deloitte Canada, a firm with which it already has a positive relationship.
But the same manager was re-appointed to oversee the First Nation’s affairs on April 1, the news release stated.
“We’re trying to get her to live up to her words,” Morris said.
“I think it’s the bureaucrats’s fault, they’re the same ones as the previous government.”
As of late 2014 the First Nation still owed Aboriginal Affairs over $400,000. It has yet to provide its financial statements for 2014-15.
The First Nation claims it’s been left in the dark about its financial affairs. But Liard First Nations citizens have been saying the same thing about their chief and council for years.
In Jan. 2014, in one of the administration’s first moves, about 40 people were laid off without prior warning. The band office was closed without explanation and everyone was sent home.
In early 2015 some Liard First Nation elders claimed they weren’t receiving their usual quotas of wood and oil during the winter. They blamed Morris for ignoring the needs of elders and refusing to communicate with them.
In February this year, a group of Liard First Nation citizens – the Kaska Concerned about Land Protection and Good Government – spoke out against their council’s lack of consultation prior to signing a resource agreement with the Yukon government.
The agreement in question, signed between the Yukon government and the Kaska Nation, sets out a plan for negotiating resource management and economic development on Kaska territory.
Morris said the First Nation has been working to improve communication with its citizens. That includes holding more meetings, sending out a newsletter and updating its website.
“You have to understand that when we were elected, the First Nation government wasn’t in a good situation,” Morris said.
There has also been talk the First Nation’s business arm, the Liard First Nation Development Corporation, had been dissolved. But Morris said that’s not the case.
It’s just “idling” for the time being, he said.
The corporation was responsible for collecting rental payments from Liard First Nation citizens, but Morris wouldn’t answer where the money is going now.
“There’s no work and no money within the development corporation,” he said.
“It owes more money to creditors than anything.”
Morris said he hopes Tuesday’s news release will “wake some people up” in Ottawa.
“Maybe they’ll be serious about moving forward,” he added.
Contact Myles Dolphin at