Windspeaker – By Shari Narine

Sherry Greene co-founded Maskwacis Voices Committee to pressure Samson Cree Nation chief and council to be transparent with finances.(Photo: supplied)

“The statement of defence will, of course, deny the allegations of wrong doing in the statement of claim.” ~ Douglas Rae, counsel for Samson Cree Nation

Sherry Greene is concerned that the election of a new chief for the Samson Cree Nation will mean nothing in a year-long battle for financial transparency and accountability.

Vern Saddleback was elected chief on May 9, but up to that point, he held the financial portfolio on council.

Since August 2016, Greene said she has made three attempts for financial documentation on, among other issues, the Cold Lake lands sales and how that revenue has been allocated. She tells she has received nothing.

The requests followed forums that began last June where band members raised concerns over lack of transparency.

Because of the lack of response from council and administration, she approached Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to undertake a forensic audit. When she got “the run-around” from INAC, she filed a statement of claim in federal court.

But, two days after the election for chief, Greene says she received an email from Saddleback saying he was willing to undertake a forensic audit.

But Greene isn’t putting much stock in council-candidates – including incumbent councillors – campaigning on financial transparency. The council election is May 23.

“It has to be court-ordered,” she said.

On April 25, Greene submitted a statement of claim in federal court commencing legal action against then-Chief Kirk Buffalo and council, saying the use of “own source revenue” monies needed to have “the consent of a majority of the electors” and she wants a definition of what constituted “meaningful and adequate consultation.”

Douglas Rae, counsel for Samson Cree Nation, says they are in the process of serving Greene with the necessary legal document and then will file a statement of defense with the federal court.

“The statement of defence will, of course, deny the allegations of wrong doing in the statement of claim,” said Rae.

He notes that clarification will be needed with Greene’s statement of claim as she names both past and present chiefs and councils.

“That’s one of the things that the Nation will be wanting particulars from her on as to what her allegations are concerning which chief and council,” said Rae.

At the centre of Greene’s contention is that band money – federal or own source revenue – is not filtering down to the people who need it the most. She alleges chief and council are taking money for their own benefit while doling out $20 purchase orders to people to buy food or gas instead of investing the money in education, training opportunities and jobs. (It’s important for our readers to note, that none of the allegations that Greene has put forward has been proven in a court of law.)

In April, Greene says more than 300 band members signed a petition “declaring our community to be in a state of crisis.” The petition called for “all band capital revenue money and federal budgets … be put on hold due to the lack of improper consultation with the Samson Cree Nation members and as a Nation we want to exercise our rights on how our monies will be spent.”

The petition further says only money needed for emergency services and basic services should be dispensed.

Greene isn’t happy about having to go to court, and she’s even less happy with INAC.

“Seriously I’ve been getting the run-around. I went to the contact people in Ottawa, they sent me to regional office,” said Greene. “I’ve been getting the run-around and I’m tired of it. It’s taking too long for any kind of action to come down to it. We want to know what’s going on with our money. Where did our money go?”

Rae says a forensic audit is not necessary as the band’s financial statements have been audited and are available to the membership.

“The forensic audit implies there’s something to be forensic about and there’s no evidence of any improprieties or anything. The audited statements of the Samson Cree Nation are unqualified, so there’s nothing to pursue,” he said.

But, the battle for financial transparency continues to pick up steam.

On May 3, a group of Samson Cree band members staged a demonstration, walking with signs that called for financial transparency, safety, and jobs.

“People are speaking out. People are being empowered,” said Greene, who co-founded Maskwacis Voices Committee.

Greene is one of about 25 per cent of the 8,000 Samson Cree members, who lives off-reserve.

Greene says living in Edmonton – where she moved to get better employment opportunities for herself and better education for her children – has allowed her to return to her community and “see things with fresh eyes.”

Greene is also pushing for a return to a traditional approach to rule. She says it should be a clan structure system, with every family on the Samson Cree Nation represented – right now council consists of one chief and 12 councillors. Such a system would be the best way to stop what she views as nepotism.

“It would create fairness and equality and that way it brings a voice for everybody. It brings everybody to the table and nobody is left out,” she said.