Members of another First Nation in Alberta are demanding a forensic investigation into the spending of federal money by its chief and council.
The call for an audit at the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis just south of Edmonton comes just weeks after CBC News reported on an audit at Alexander First Nation that identified $2.1 million in unexplained payments by a former chief and staff.
CBC INVESTIGATES | Audit identifies $2.1M in ‘unexplained payments’ to Alexander First Nation former chief and staff
Alexander First Nation residents disturbed by controversial audit
More than 300 Samson Cree members have signed a petition in the hope of forcing their leaders to approve and request a similar forensic audit from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
“We need accountability and transparency,” said Sherry Greene, who is spearheading the campaign.
“The funding that the government gives us, we need to know exactly where it is because obviously it’s not reaching the real grassroots people who are suffering,” she said.
“They cannot ignore us anymore.”
In June, Greene co-founded the Maskwacis Voices Committee to hold open forums for band members. They raised concerns about financial activities of reserve leadership and began pressing them for documentation.
They want to see a detailed account of payments received by chief and council and learn how revenue generated from a $5.3-million land sale in November is being spent, Greene said.
They also want to know how millions of dollars allotted for programs to address issues such as gang violence and suicide were invested.
Written requests ignored
Greene said written requests to chief and council for detailed financial spending have been ignored.
She said she submitted the request letter stating their concerns to the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs but a field officer in Edmonton told her an audit request must come through the chief and council after passing a resolution.
“So in that way the grassroots people do not have a voice to call for this type of forensic audit,” said Greene.
“We don’t have rights as grassroots people to raise these kinds of questions within first nations communities.”
‘We need accountability and transparency’
– Sherry Greene
Despite fundraising, Greene said at this point the campaign does not have the money or resources to retain a lawyer to represent them in federal court and force the release of information.
She said she was on the verge of giving up when she read about the success of other Indigenous communities, such as Alexander First Nation also near Edmonton, where some members are also fighting for accountability and transparency.
“These are setting precedents and paving the way and opening doors for other first nations to stand up and start voicing their concerns,” she said.
“It inspired me even more to do what’s good for our people.”
Neither the Samson Cree chief nor council responded to requests for comment.
Community can ask for probe
A spokesperson for Indigenous and Northern Affairs said the department is not aware of a recent request for a forensic audit or allegations over improper use of funds, but takes such complaints seriously.
“When there are indications or allegations of fraud or improper use of funds, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) conducts a forensic audit to ensure that there has been no misappropriation of public funds and that funds were used in the manner for which they were intended,” wrote Shawn Jackson.
Sherry Greene home
Greene said like many in her community, she grew up in poverty in a home beset by mould, where food was scarce. (Sherry Greene)
“It is not the case that only chief and council can formally request a forensic audit,” he added.
“A member of the community can request an investigation to ensure that public funds provided by the department to a recipient are directed to the projects they are meant for.”
He said the request needs to be formally submitted to the department’s assessment and investigation services branch to be considered.
Greene said like many in her community, she grew up in poverty in a home tainted with mould, where food was scarce.
Sherry GreeneSherry Greene said Sampson Cree leadership have not responded to requests for detailed financial information
‘The funding that the government gives us … it’s not reaching the real grassroots people who are suffering’
The mother of two said she moved off reserve so she and her children could have better opportunities, but many in her community are still suffering.
“It hurts me to see our people the way they’re living today,” she said. “There is no equal opportunity. There always has been that nepotism that nobody talks about.”
Greene and others plan to make their demands heard at a rally Friday morning near the community.