Most N.L. First Nations politicians make less than MHA backbenchers

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James McLeod
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Audited financial statements shed new light on aboriginal finances in the province

Chief Mi’sel Joe gets paid $100 per month as chief of the Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River.

His total salary is $73,950, but that’s because he’s also an administrator for the band; Joe said his actual salary for the job of chief is just $100 per month.

Even at $73,950, he seems to be the lowest-paid chief among Newfoundland and Labrador First Nations. Brendan Sheppard with the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation is paid $94,042 and Andrew Penashue with the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation is paid $173,704.

The Mushuau Innu First Nation has not filed information with the federal government.

The First Nations Transparency Act requires that First Nations across the country file audited financial statements and remuneration to members, and that information has to be posted online, starting this year.

The audited financial statements detail how much revenue the First Nations are getting from the federal government and other sources, and what it’s being spent on.

The Conne River band is running a $2.9-million deficit for the coming year, on an overall budget of $23 million, although as recently as 2013, it ran a $5-million surplus.

The Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation is running a balanced budget, and it has more than $3 million cash in the bank, along with $65 million in capital assets.

Nothing about the audited financial statements leaps out as shocking, and nor should it, according to Liberal MP Gerry Byrne.

In addition to being an MP, Byrne is an applicant to become a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.

“My impressions are that First Nations are very well managed and quite democratic and reasonable with the remuneration of their public office holders,” Byrne said. “I would suggest to you that Chief Mi’sel Joe is underpaid.”

Since the audited financial statements from across the country started getting posted online, media coverage has focused on cases where things seem to be problematic.

One B.C. chief, for example, received more than $900,000 in a single year.

But Dalhousie University professor Howard Ramos, who studies indigenous issues and race, said that First Nations communities shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as any different from the rest of the country.

Ramos said that there are examples of corrupt officials in small towns as well.

“If you wanted to focus on that in Atlantic Canada, we’ve had our fair share of that,” he said. “I think the bigger question to ask is, is the rate in first nations communities any different than outside of First Nations communities?”

Remuneration for First Nations politicians is all over the map for the three First Nations in Newfoundland and Labrador.

For example, in Sheshatshiu, the chief makes $173,704, and other members of the band council make about $70,000.

For the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation, the chief makes $94,042, but the rest of the members of the council make between $6,000 to $8,000.

For the Miawpukek Band, the salaries vary widely, because most of the council members hold other jobs with the band. One councilor, who’s a nurse practitioner, actually makes more than Joe makes as chief.

The salaries of nearly all the First Nations politicians in this province are lower than what a backbench MHA makes in the House of Assembly, and Penashue, who gets paid the most, is making roughly the same amount as a backbench MP in the House of Commons.

The full audited financial statements, and the schedule of remuneration for First Nations bands in the province can be viewed on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development website of the Government of Canada.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador First Nations, Dalhousie University, House of Commons.The Aboriginal Affairs

Geographic location: Conne River, Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador

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