What’s happening with the Liard First Nation?

The Liard First Nation is struggling. Or that’s what it seems like from the outside, since what little information that filters out comes from local citizens opposing the current chief and council.

The Liard First Nation is struggling.

Or that’s what it seems like from the outside, since what little information that filters out comes from local citizens opposing the current chief and council.

The community is divided over the chief, Daniel Morris, and his decisions.

Two years after the federal government stepped in because it feared core services, from social assistance to pensions, were at risk of not being delivered, it’s hard to gauge what, if anything has changed.

A Vancouver-based firm, Ganhada Management Group, is in charge of delivering those services.

Ganhada controls $4.4 million in funding to deliver those services to Liard citizens.

The bulk of it, $2.6 million, is for “basic needs,” said a spokesperson for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, without specifying what those needs are.

The feds first said that was a temporary, last-resort measure.

But then last March, INAC told the First Nation it would remain under third-party management. Morris filed a lawsuit this past May challenging that decision.

In a community badly hurt by the economic slowdown and the closing of several mines, tension is growing.

A group of citizens gathered under the name Kaska Concerned about Land Protection and Good Government is acting as the de facto official opposition.

They started raising concerns when Morris, along with other Kaska chiefs, signed a resource agreement with the Yukon government last February.

The agreement only sets out a plan for negotiating further resource agreements for specific sectors such as forestry, mining and oil and gas.

Then earlier this week the same group raised concerns about the regular election scheduled for next December.

Chief and council missed a deadline to set up an election oversight committee.

There is still time to hold a special meeting to appoint that committee, but George Morgan, a member of Kaska Concerned is skeptical.

He told the News Tuesday they would have to consider organizing the meeting themselves or getting a court order.

People in the community are patient, elder Alfred Chief, who is also a spokesperson with Kaska Concerned, told the News Thursday.

“There is quite a few people who are just waiting for the election to happen,” he said.

During the last election, Morgan lost to Morris by 22 votes.

Chief blamed vote splitting – there were too many candidates, he said – for Morgan’s defeat.

Morgan himself told the News today he plans to run in the upcoming election.

He was the executive director of the First Nation from January to April 2014, before resigning.

“I think he has a fairly good chance at winning the next election,” Chief said.

Financial trouble

The News previously reported the First Nation owed $400,000 to INAC. But the federal department refuses to disclose how much money the First Nation still owes.

In fact, there is little INAC will say about LFN besides boiler-plate statements about third-party management.

Morgan claims the Canada Revenue Agency seized the First Nation’s bank account earlier this month because of unpaid income taxes totalling $1 million.

In 2014, former LFN chief Liard McMillan told the News that the First Nation ended up with about $2 million in debt after Morris refused to pay income tax during his first term, arguing the First Nation was tax-exempt.

The CRA refused to confirm whether they had seized the accounts, citing privacy policies.

There is also the question of where the rent money paid through social assistance goes.

Chief and Morgan claim that INAC sends the portion of social assistance money dedicated to rent straight to the chief and council, because the band owns the homes.

Morgan said it accounts for about $60,000 per month.

The News asked INAC why it would send that money directly to the chief when it didn’t trust him to deliver basic services to Liard citizens.

“Social assistance client payments for rent are sent to the landlord of the property,” INAC spokesperson Shawn Jackson wrote in an email.

On top of that, Morgan claims unpaid bills have piled up, reaching around $1 million.

Governance trouble

The First nation is still responsible for other duties including governance.

But council meetings have not taken place since Morris got elected in 2013, Morgan and Chief both said.

They say Morris is rarely seen in the community.

The News couldn’t reach Morris for comment by press time today. On Thursday a woman answering his phone told the News he would call back. The News couldn’t reach two councillors said to be loyal to Morris.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com