Darren Dolan, a Semiahmoo resident and band member, reaches for a water bottle in the kitchen of his house on the reserve as his girl friend Debbie Anderson cooks dinner. Dolan pays for water to be trucked in for washing, laundry and showers and also buys bottled water for drinking and cooking. Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann , The Province
Reserve residents say it’s unfair they have to live in ‘third-world conditions
By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver SunAugust 15, 2015
Band members on the Semiahmoo First Nation say they were shocked to hear their chief and a councillor were raking in massive salaries while their people live in semi-squalor on the tiny Surrey reserve.
Darren Dolan and his cousin Darlene Clark are now calling for an audit to open the books, saying they had been trying for years to find out where the band’s money was going but never got a response from their council.
The news Thursday that Chief Willard Cook was paid more than $267,309, while councillor Joanne Charles got $187,138, confirmed their worst fears, they said. Roxanne Charles — the only other council member — was paid $4,725 and had expenses of $27,473.
“We’re in shock because honestly, we’re living in third-world conditions,” said Dolan, 52.
“We have to pay for water and bring in potable water to drink. With that kind of money you could run water down here, provide high-speed Internet, natural gas … Without an audit, or somebody pushing to open the books, it’ll just go on and on.”
Clark, who doesn’t live on the reserve, said she was outraged to hear the chief and councillor were paid enough that they could buy million-dollar properties, while band members were struggling month-to-month in mouldy homes with poor drinking water and lack of sewer pipes, while nothing had been done to provide social programs or other amenities.
Dolan, who shares a 1,000-sq.-ft. home with his girlfriend on the reserve, said many homes on the reserve had been deemed unlivable by social welfare and Indian Affairs yet nothing had been done. His home, he said, has only single-pane windows, and he relies on food banks to survive.
The band has about 90 members, but it’s not known how many live on the small reserve, located just north of the Canada-U. S. border.
“It’s definitely in the lower ranks,” Dolan said. “Honestly we don’t have anything here. We’re trying to survive month to month.”
Semiahmoo is the latest in a handful of other First Nations in B.C. where chiefs have been paid exorbitant salaries, disclosed through now-required financial filings to the federal government.
Clark said there has been much outcry from band members after she posted news of the high salaries on social media site Facebook, noting members have been trying for years to get answers.
When tax-free status is factored in, the high salary makes the chief possibly the highest paid politician in Canada. It would take more than $400,000 off-reserve to generate after-tax take-home pay of $267,000.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper earns $327,400 plus a $2,000-a-year car allowance. B.C. Premier Christy Clark has a $193,532 annual salary. Both would also receive living and travel allowances.
Clark said while chief and councillors are getting paid huge salaries, “us working stiffs get nothing.”
The last council meeting, she said, had been at least 10 years ago, although Dolan suggests it was even longer than that.
Nobody at the band office answered the phone Friday and emails to Joanne Charles were unreturned. A phone number registered under Charles’s name was not in service Friday.
The financial statements filed by the Semiahmoo with the federal government show the band had revenues of $4.88 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year, and had a surplus of $3.09 million. Most of their revenues in 2013-14 came from the B.C. government, which provided the band $3.33 million.
By far the largest expense was administration (which would normally include salaries), at $939,924, far outstripping spending on economic initiatives ($136,499) and community programs ($133,197). Other spending included health ($90,277), education ($43,298) and land and resources ($224,807).
“I don’t think anybody had any idea until this came out,” Clark said. “To make more than the premier, you’ve got to wonder. It’s just ridiculous. We’re just trying to digest the whole situation. That money could have piped our reserve three times.”