Cowichan Tribes, Halalt leaders fail to file earnings on time

Malahat Band Chief Michael Harry. - Peter W. Rusland/file
Malahat Band Chief Michael Harry.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

Half of Cowichan Valley's Aboriginal chiefs and councillors have allegedly failed to file their annual salaries with the feds.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says leaders of Cowichan Tribes and Halalt First Nation had not met a July 29 filing deadline, while chief and council of the Penelakut and Malahat bands did report their annual earnings on time.

CTF's Jordan Bateman told the News Leader Pictorial Wednesday that Tribes and Halalt leaders' wages are among about 55% of Canada's 1,100 First Nations whose leaders had yet to publicly declare their annual pay.

That declaration falls under the 2013 law called the First Nations Financial Transparency Act successfully sought by the CTF.

Figures show Malahat Chief Michael Harry earned $61,789 last year in tax-free wages, or about $79,000 in off-reserve figures, Bateman explained.

Harry serves a registered population of 316.

In 2013, Penelakut Chief Earl Jack earned $45,888 — $56,000 in off-reserve dollars — while leading 924 folks.

Wages for Cowichan Tribes Chief Chip Seymour, and Halalt Chief James Thomas, were unknown at press time Thursday.

In comparison, he said Kwikwetlem Chief Ron Giesbrecht earned $915,000 ($1.6 million in off-reserve dollars) for leading 81 members.

Failure to file earnings — mandated under Canada's First Nations Financial Transparency Act — could result in some government funds being withheld from that First Nation, Bateman explained.

Passing of that legislation followed the tax watchdog getting what Bateman called "a brown-paper envelope " in 2009, outlining an Aboriginal leader's relatively huge salary.

"Our mission was to get this law passed so Natives could look at it," he said of financial disclosure by Aboriginal leaders responsible for their people's health, education, clean water and sanitation, housing, spiritual values and more.

About three-quarters of a chief's and council's wages come from federal and provincial taxpayers.

The rest, said Bateman, comes from band taxes, leasing revenues, and business profits for items such as cigarette and fireworks sales.

"Only members on reserve can tell us if a (leader's) salary is in line or not," Bateman noted.

"It's like a mayor or an MLA; they're subject to the public's wishes, and the same should be true for a Native band.

"They're elected officials, and it's standard practice in a democracy to know what you're paying your politicians."

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