Top oil producing First Nation launches $50 million court action against Ottawa over First Nation financial transparency legislation

Chief Wallace Fox of Onion Lake FN leads the "charge" into House of Commons, Dec 4, 2012, an action that helped jump start the INM rallies.

Chief Wallace Fox of Onion Lake FN leads the “charge” into House of Commons, Dec 4, 2012, an action that helped jump start the Idle No More rallies.

by Jorge Barrera, APTN National News, Nov 26, 2014
EDMONTON-The country’s top oil producing First Nation has launched a $50 million court action against Ottawa over damages suffered as a result of “punitive measures” imposed by the federal Aboriginal Affairs department after the Cree community refused to publicly disclose its finances as required by recently passed legislation.

The legal action also seeks to have the Federal Court find that the legislation, known as the First Nation Financial Transparency Act, has no force on Onion Lake Cree Nation and that the legislation breaches the community’s treaty rights. Onion Lake is also seeking a ruling that finds Ottawa has breached its fiduciary duty.

Onion Lake Cree Nation filed its statement of claim against Ottawa in Edmonton Wednesday.

The First Nation Financial Transparency Act, passed by the Harper government, seeks to force First Nations across the country to disclose their financial information and the salaries of band politicians.

Onion Lake Chief Wallace Fox said the First Nation has no issues disclosing financial information related to money it receives from the department, but did not feel it necessary to publicly reveal information related to own-source revenues.

“It is not about chief and council salaries, we have disclosed that to our people,” said Fox, during a press conference in Edmonton, which was livestreamed online. “That whole issue is about jurisdiction, that we have a right and sovereign relationship under treaty.”

Onion Lake is a signatory to Treaty 6.

The statement of claim lists the punitive measures threatened by Aboriginal Affairs to force Onion Lake to abide by the legislation. It alleges the department is threatening to terminate its funding agreement with Onion Lake by Dec. 12, meaning no money from the department would flow to the community. The court document also claims that the department has also threatened to cut funding for non-essential programs by Thursday.

Aboriginal Affairs is seeking Onion Lake’s consolidated audited financial services package, which the community alleges includes private assets.

“Indian Moneys are generated from the sale of surrendered land, interest, and revenues from the plaintiff’s owned and operated commerce, there, as a result, Indian Moneys derived from capital moneys and revenue moneys is private property of the plaintiff,” said the document. “The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs now compels the plaintiff, Onion Lake to publish its own private, corporate audited financial statements for public disclosure by way of a website. Public disclosure will result in harm to the plaintiff, Onion Lake, by way of losses and damages.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office responded to questions by providing a previous statement from the minister saying “our government will take action” against non-complying First Nations.

Onion Lake’s court document claims that the community stands to lose $963,000 in capital housing funds, the loss of social and welfare programs, the salaries of 800 employees and of funding for the construction of four schools.

Onion Lake produces about 20,000 barrels a day of oil from its territory which is in Saskatchewan near the Alberta border.

It’s also believed Onion Lake is on the cusp of being able to totally operate without any Aboriginal Affairs dollars and there were previous plans to hold a ceremonial burning of its contribution agreement with Ottawa.

Clayton Tootoosis, 24, a band member of Onion Lake Cree Nation, said he’s been asking Fox personally to disclose his salary, expenses and travel spending for several years and he’s never been given any information.

“I am asking for the information that would be revealed under the law,” said Tootoosis. “I want that information because I want transparency and accountability within my own community.”

Tootoosis said that he’s upset Fox and the band council are using the band’s money to fight Ottawa on the issue. He said that Onion Lake is not truly sovereign, but is still under the Indian Act.

“I’m outraged that they would be using our band funds to fight a personal vendetta against the government,” said Tootoosis. “This disclosure will comprise them as chief and council. There is a rumour going around that what they make is ridiculous and if people find out they could be on the chopping block”

Posted on November 26, 2014, in Indian Act Indians and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I apologise, but I’ve had a hard time understanding exactly what is going on here (only really glanced through the article). Seems like Tootoosis is in the right – is that the gist of it? Whatever ham-fisted way the Aboriginal Affairs goes about it, would the forced disclosure of the information not be a good thing?

    • It is a somewhat awkward situation in that it is another example of the governments control over the Indian Act band council system, however in many communities I think there is a demand to know exactly how much band councilors are making, and especially in those communities where chief and council are obviously profiting off of their official positions. In the end, band members shouldn’t need the federal government forcing the band council to disclose its finances, the band council should be doing that voluntarily.

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