The band’s financial state was discussed during a meeting on Nov. 12, which was reportedly attended by only about 12 band members.
Three years ago, the First Nation was in debt over $1.4 million, according to its 2011 financial statement. This debt was reduced to $641,595 in 2013, but rose to $1,806,209 as of March 31, 2014. The audit was completed by Chalupiak & Associates of Regina.
The majority of the band’s debt is related to its business, New Horizon First Nation Administration Inc. This accounts for $1,031,927 of debt.
The band was previously informed by a financial officer that New Horizon was no longer generating revenue. Prior to 2010, it provided third-party management for other First Nations. However, it is now in the business of economic development under the title Nekaneet Corporation.
While equity left it in the black $63,788 last year, the business had a deficit of $196,808 in 2013. This debt increased to $1,292,523 in 2014 to put it in the red $1,095,715 overall.
Other major contributors to the band’s deficit are its Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) mortgages of $689,993 and long-term debt of $410,760.
The band’s community development fund has a surplus of $271,454, while economic development is operating at a surplus of $4,613. Education is in the red $10,510, and Indian government support is at a deficit of $201,872. Social development is at a deficit of $18,179, and health services are $14,058 in the red. CMHC operations are running at a surplus of $58,839 after amortization of $82,444. Band programs are running at a surplus of $293,683.
Chief Jordi Fourhorns was contacted for comment, but did not return phone calls.
Nekaneet’s chief and councillor salaries have also been made public in accordance with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
Nekaneet First Nation posted its reports on Nov. 10, which included the schedule of salaries, honoraria, travel expenses and other remuneration for the chief and three councillors from 2013-14.
According to the report, the chief’s salary and honoraria for the 12 months was $69,600. He received $60,248 for the cost of travel and meetings and $55,488 for other remuneration for a total of $185,336.
Councillor Harry Buffalocalf was paid a salary of $39,500, Councillor Joe Daniel received $38,000 and Councillor Wes Daniel received $35,000. With the additional expenses for travel and meetings and other remuneration, the total they were each paid came to $47,583, $60,756 and $63,995 respectively.
As of October, Nekaneet had a registered population of 471 band members, with 186 living on the reserve.
The federal government passed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act in 2013. It came into effect in July, requiring each of the more than 600 First Nations across Canada to disclose their annual financial statements, including a list of remuneration and expenses for chiefs and councillors. The reports must be posted online 120 days after the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014 and every year after that.
According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), the act “supports more effective, transparent and accountable governments, and contributes to stronger, more self-sufficient and prosperous communities.”
Opinions on whether or not Nekaneet’s salaries are fair differ among band members.
“I think it’s still a bit steep, because our band is pretty small,” said one member, noting only 40 per cent of members actually live on the reserve.
Of the 56 Saskatchewan First Nations that have posted their chief and councillors’ wages, the median salaries earned by chiefs were $63,629 and $64,400. The highest paid was Chief Teddy Clark of Clearwater River Dene Nation – with a band membership of 1,927, including 784 living on the reserve – whose salary/honoraria totalled $112,075 for nine months. The lowest salary belonged to Chief Terry McArthur of Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nation – with a total of 405 band members, 144 living on the reserve – whose salary for eight months was just $12,000.
Based on reports submitted to date, the average salary of a chief in the province is $62,300. Chief Fourhorns was among the top 20 highest paid chiefs.
These figures do not take into account expenses, the varying size of each band or the size of any businesses associated with some bands. Fourteen of the province’s 70 bands have not yet posted their reports.
AANDC reports there are a number of factors typically considered by a First Nation in determining the remuneration for its elected officials, including the chief and councillors’ responsibilities and duties, the size of the community, the complexity of the business operations in the community and the own-source revenue of the community.
Salaries earned by the elected officials are tax-free.
The most shocking amount reported is the $914,219 per year made by Chief Ron Giesbrecht of Kwikwetlem First Nation in B.C. The 80-member First Nation’s chief was the subject of public scrutiny this summer after his substantial salary was revealed.
There are currently 487 First Nations across the country that have submitted reports.