Liard First Nation shuts office

In one of the new administration’s very first moves, Chief Daniel Morris and his councillors closed the First Nation’s office on Friday afternoon and sent everyone home.

The Liard First Nation has laid off almost its entire staff.

In one of the new administration’s very first moves, Chief Daniel Morris and his councillors closed the First Nation’s office on Friday afternoon and sent everyone home.

The mass layoffs came with no prior warning.

“After a cursory review of the finances, we realized that the First Nation is in significant financial stress,” said acting executive director George Morgan.

“It’s pretty bad.”

Chief Morris was unavailable for comment, and has not spoken publicly to any reporter since beginning his run for chief last November. Morgan said that will not be changing any time soon. His new role as executive director includes being the official government spokesperson.

Morgan didn’t say just how bad the financial situation is, but confirmed that nobody at the First Nation is being paid right now, not even Morris or the other councillors.

A statement issued by the First Nation blames the financial difficulties on unpaid debts to “vendors.”

The layoffs, which affect about 40 staff, will remain in place for the “short term,” Morgan said. Essential services like water delivery and homecare are still being carried out.

“Short term means as soon as this new chief and council can get a grip on the financial situation and talk to our partners at Indian Affairs and see if we can come up with viable solution,” said Morgan.

The First Nation currently has auditors going through the books trying to determine where all the government’s money went, Morgan said.

But according to former chief Liard McMillan, that audit should have been finished by now.

“The chartered accountants who are performing the audit for this year, my understanding when I left office is that we were about two weeks away from being done,” McMillan said.

McMillan didn’t run in December’s elections for chief and council, and left office on Dec. 16.

McMillan said he doesn’t know what could have happened to the finances in such a short time, but insists that things were not as desperate as Morgan says.

“When I left office prior to the election, there was money in the bank and also funding that was due to come in that did not require the completion of the audit,” McMillan said.

The last time Morris was chief, he implemented a loan program for First Nations citizens that McMillan said was questionable at best. Among the largest recipients of loans was Morris himself, who took more than $250,000, according to a report commissioned by the First Nation after Morris left office.

McMillan has long insisted that Morris took the money improperly and never paid it back, but Aboriginal Affairs refused to investigate the missing funds. During the last election, Morris maintained that he never took any money inappropriately and was instead made the scapegoat for other councillors’ unethical financial behaviour.

The last time around, Morris also refused to pay taxes to Revenue Canada, arguing that the First Nation government was tax-exempt. McMillan said that move cost the government $300,000 a year in legal fees and contributed to the nearly $2 million debt the government is currently saddled with.

McMillan admits finances have always been a challenge, even under his administration, but for the last 10 years the government has always managed to at least make payroll payments and never had to lay anyone off.

“As an employee, when Morris was chief last time, I recall he and his council laying off staff for two weeks out of the year without pay. It seems that we’re falling back into that pattern, unfortunately.”

Aboriginal Affairs is also auditing the First Nation’s finances. That investigation goes back to 2011, and does not cover the Liard First Nation Development Corporation.

Morgan said he has been in touch with Aboriginal Affairs and is hoping to set up a meeting with the federal department’s Yukon regional office soon.

Morgan ran against Morris in the LFN election in December and lost by only 22 votes. After the results were announced, Morgan said he was considering legal action over what he said was unfair vote counting.

“Our election regulations are very suspect,” Morgan said. “They don’t have any appeals mechanism so the only option is Federal Court,” Morgan said at the time.

But now he’s had a change of heart, he said.

“I thought about it over Christmas. I just thought that I’m just really tired of fighting. At the end of the day a court would have directed the First Nation to update its election regulations but that wouldn’t have helped me.

I was approached by council and asked if I would serve in this capacity in the short term. I’m still very passionate about helping to build good governance in Watson Lake. I want to see I can help us out of this desperate circumstance,” Morgan said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services building in Whitehorse on March 28, 2019. Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed for good say they were relieved to hear that the Yukon RCMP has undertaken a forensic audit into the now-defunct NGO’s financial affairs. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Former Many Rivers board members relieved to hear about forensic audit, wonder what took so long

Three people who sat on Many Rivers’ board immediately before it closed… Continue reading

Whitehorse General Hospital in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. The Yukon Employees’ Union and Yukon Hospital Corporation are at odds over whether there’s a critical staffing shortage at the territory’s hospitals. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
YEU, Yukon Hospital Corp. at odds over whether hospitals are understaffed

YEU says four nurses quit within 12 hours last week, a claim the YHC says is “inaccurate”

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates, Ray Hartling and Mark Lange, have filed a class action against the jail, corrections officials and Yukon government on behalf of everyone who’s been placed in two restrictive units over the past six years. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Class action filed against Whitehorse Correctional Centre over use of segregation

Two former Whitehorse Correctional Centre inmates have filed a class action against… Continue reading


Wyatt’s World for Oct. 21, 2020

Movie poster for <em>Ìfé,</em> a movie being shown during OUT North Film Festival, which includes approximately 20 different films accessible online this year. (Submitted)
OUT North Film Festival moves to virtual format

In its ninth year, the artistic director said this year has a more diverse set of short and feature films

Triple J’s Canna Space in Whitehorse on April 17, 2019, opens their first container of product. Two years after Canada legalized the sale of cannabis, Yukon leads the country in per capita legal sales. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon leads Canadian cannabis sales two years after legalization

Private retailers still asking for changes that would allow online sales

A sign greets guests near the entrance of the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse on June 11. The city announced Oct. 16 it was moving into the next part of its phased reopening plan with spectator seating areas open at a reduced capacity to allow for physical distancing. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CGC reopening continues

Limited spectator seating now available

During Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 19 meeting, planning manager Mélodie Simard brought forward a recommendation that a proposed Official Community Plan amendment move forward that would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend, currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
More development in Whistle Bend contemplated

OCP change would be the first of several steps to develop future area

EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Northwestel has released the proposed prices for its unlimited plans. Unlimited internet in Whitehorse and Carcross could cost users between $160.95 and $249.95 per month depending on their choice of package. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet options outlined

Will require CRTC approval before Northwestel makes them available

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse. Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting instead of 30 days to make up for lost time caused by COVID-19 in the spring. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Legislative assembly sitting extended

Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting. The extension… Continue reading

Today’s mailbox: Mad about MAD

Letters to the editor published Oct. 16, 2020

Most Read