After a number of court sessions, Onion Lake Cree Nation has given financial information to a band member.
In 2016, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation partnered with band member Charmaine Stick to launch a court application to compel Onion Lake Cree Nation leadership to reveal financial information according to the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
In 2017, Justice B.A. Barrington-Foote ruled Onion Lake had 30 days to disclose financial information. Onion Lake appealed the ruling. The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan reached a decision on March 26 that the First Nation must give copies of its audited consolidated financial statements and the schedule of remuneration of chiefs and councillors to Stick.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation hosted a media event April 30 announcing Stick had received the financial information.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act has been controversial.
The act came into effect in 2014. It compels First Nations to give copies of its financial information to band members, and to publish such information on the Internet. If First Nations don’t do so according to the act, funding from the federal government could be withheld.
Federal transfer payments fund, among other things, what are considered essential and non-essential services. Essential services include education, water, sanitation, child and family services and housing. Non-essential services include, among others, administrative costs and other initiatives.
Former Conservative MP Rob Clarke, who represented Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, has argued in favour of the act. In 2012 he made comments regarding some band offices not distributing financial information, and that the provision to publish information online is due to many band members living off-reserve.
Some said the all-encompassing nature of the act was heavy-handed.
First Nations leaders and commentators have argued the act isn’t strictly about revealing salaries, but also financial information pertaining to band business, which could put First Nations at a competitive disadvantage.
Critics say the act makes First Nations publicly report more information regarding own-source revenue than other governing entities must.
An overwhelming majority of First Nations comply with the act.
Chief Wallace Fox of Onion Lake Cree Nation has been involved in multiple court cases relating to the act, including those which challenge the act’s constitutionality and its violation of treaty and Aboriginal rights.
Letters, some dated Oct. 27, 2014, were sent to First Nations by AANDC, warning of the withholding of funding for essential and non-essential programs. The government began legal action against the First Nations.
In October 2015, a judge ruled the government was to cease its legal efforts. A federal Liberal government was elected that month.
Only non-essential funding was withheld from Onion Lake, and was later restored by the Liberal government.
According to the CTF, Fox’s salary was $150,692 in 2016.
Fox said, at a 2014 press conference, administration didn’t receive federal contribution money for chief and council salaries.
In response to the financial information being released publicly Stick said:
“Our chief gave himself a nice raise while lots of people on the reserve are struggling. Now that we have the numbers, our leaders are going to have to start answering tough questions.”
Chiefs and council are occasionally compared to mayor and council. Some First Nation commentators, such as writer and lawyer Chelsea Vowel, write such comparisons aren’t viable because chiefs and council have more responsibilities than municipalities, and make decisions regarding education, land and social assistance, among others.
A December 2017 report by the federal government noted the act could be repealed in 2018 and replaced.
According to a statement by Onion Lake leadership, Onion Lake will continue its legal challenge of the act.
The CTF was previously involved in a case earlier this year involving Harrison Thunderchild and Thunderchild First Nation.