UPDATE: Kwikwetlem chief won't resign
The chief of the Kwikwetlem First Nation says he won't resign — and he claims he has the backing of most of his Coquitlam band members to stay in his elected position.
Thursday, Chief Ron Giesbrecht addressed his 82 members in a notice on the band website, saying he has spoken or tried to talk with all of them since his lucrative pay last year was disclosed last week.
According to the papers released under the new First Nations Financial Transparency Act, in the last fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, Giesbrecht earned $914,219 in remuneration as chief and economic development officer plus another $16,574 in expenses.
About $800,000 of his economic development officer wage was tied to a Burke Mountain land deal with the provincial government — worth $8.2 million — of which Giesbrecht received a 10% "economic development benefit."
The 10% bonus structure was terminated on April 1, 2014.
The Tri-City News has attempted to reach Giesbrecht repeatedly over the past week but he has not responded to requests for comment.
In his latest written statement (posted below), Giesbrecht said some Kwikwetlem members wanted to show their support for him and their video testimony has been uploaded to a YouTube channel (go to youtube.com and search "Kwikwetlem channel"). Member Beverly Mroczkowski said in one video: "With Ron as chief, we have moved forward immensely."
"In my role as chief, I am one of the lowest paid chiefs in the country," Giesbrecht said in his statement of his $4,800-a-year salary. "I was asked to take on the role of economic development officer because I know the importance of these opportunities for our nation.
"I did not expect our nation to be as successful as it was and it means that Kwikwetlem First Nation is in a better position than it has ever been before," he wrote.
Giesbrecht did not address the 10% bonus nor some band members' calls for a forensic audit of the Kwikwetlem finances.
According to the audited statements, the Kwikwetlem First Nation reported $10.1 million in financial assets and $1.3 million in liabilities for the last fiscal year. It collected $8.2 million from the provincial government, $673,581 from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, $298,232 from BC Hydro, $22,271 from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., $1.25 million from Quantum Murray and $1 million from "miscellaneous."
It also spent $2.2 million in economic development.
The $8.2-million provincial land deal pertained to 584 acres of Crown land north of Coast Meridian Road that the province put up for sale on Feb. 4 to balance its books; 370 acres were purchased a month later by Wesbild. (This week, a spokesperson from B.C.'s Ministry of Finance said seven parcels from that sale, totalling 222.5 acres, are still available.)
John Rustad, B.C.'s minster of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, was unavailable for comment but a statement was issued by his office: "The province has a legal duty to consult with First Nations when selling Crown-owned land. In some instances as part of the province's legal duty to consult, an accommodation or economic benefit agreement may be reached with First Nations to extinguish future claims on the property.
"Economic benefit agreements can take several different forms as long as they are mutually agreed upon by both parties, including financial arrangements and/or development partnerships etc. Additionally, government policy permits direct sales to First Nations," the statement read.
A call to BC Liberal MLA Doug Horne (Coquitlam-Burke Mountain) was not returned, and Tri-City MPs James Moore and Fin Donnelly were not available on Thursday.
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt was not able to comment this week although his office reiterated the Transparency Act was put into place to allow First Nation members to access financial data of the bands (about two thirds of the country's bands failed to meet the July 29, 2014, deadline under the Transparency Act).
Giesbrecht was elected chief of the Kwikwetlem First Nation in April 2012, taking 63% of the vote against former chief Marvin. Giesbrecht's term ends in April 2015.
The Kwikwetlem — the name is translated as "Red Fish up the River" — has two reserves bordering the Coquitlam River: a 6.5-acre property in Coquitlam and a 202-acre parcel in Port Coquitlam. Its headquarters are based beside Colony Farm Regional Park.
• Chief Ron Giesbrecht's Aug. 7 statement to the Kwikwetlem First Nation members can be read in full at tricitynews.com.
August 7, 2014
Statement from Chief Ron Giesbrecht, Kwikwetlem First Nation
Last Friday (August 1) I said that I would focus on speaking to Kwikwetlem members following recent media coverage about my role as Chief and economic development officer.
Since then, I have been spending time meeting with members and on the phone. Of the 82 members of Kwikwetlem First Nation, 57 are voting members. I have spoken to or tried to speak to everyone.
During those conversations, four members asked for me to resign. I offered to organize a community meeting for our nation. Five members asked for a meeting ahead of a community meeting we already have planned for the beginning of October. Most people did not want a meeting, but I am happy to speak to those members individually.
I am pleased to have support of majority of membership, and some people wanted an opportunity to go on record with their thoughts. We have recorded these and will upload them to a YouTube channel here throughout the day today.
As Chief I am paid $4,800 per year. As economic development officer I am paid $80,000 per year. The bonus structure that was previously in place was removed on April 1.
In my role as Chief, I am one of the lowest paid Chiefs in the country. I was asked to take on the role of economic development officer and took it because I know the importance of these opportunities for our nation. I did not expect our nation to be as successful as it was, and it means that Kwikwetlem First Nation is in a better position than it has ever been before. As a result we have improved things like our housing, our youth and Elder support, our health programs. Now more people than ever are moving back.
We know that as Kwikwetlem’s economic development opportunities continue, it is important to separate the business from the politics and day-‐to-‐day running of our nation.
To do this, we are approaching the end of a process of setting up a separate economic development company. This will have an independent board of directors.
We will continue to improve our governance and procedures, this discussion will be an important part of our band meeting at the beginning of October.
I know that some of you may still have questions. You can contact the band office on 604 540 0680 and I will speak to you or arrange a time to speak.