Saskatoon StarPhoenix


Another chief earns just $9,500 in base pay

- D. C. FRASER LEADER-POST @dcfraser

REGINA — When it comes to how much First Nations chiefs and councillor­s are being compensate­d for their services in Saskatchew­an, there’s a vast difference in approaches across the province.

For the 2013-14 fiscal year, First Nations politician­s received as little as $1,500 and as much as $350,000 in compensati­on.

Almost 80 chiefs and councillor­s in the province received more than $100,000 in compensati­on, according to numbers gathered by the Leader-Post from the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Developmen­t (AANDC) website. Total compensati­on includes all the funds received during the time period, and can be made up of travel expenses, honoraria, salary, benefits and other sources of income.

Norman Whitehawk, chief of Cote First Nation, was compensate­d $354,629 — the highest in the province. His base salary was $91,614. He received $151,339 in travel expenses, plus an additional $111,676 for a land purchase payment. There are 3,316 registered band members of Cote First Nation. Four of the top 20 compensate­d First Nation politician­s in Saskatchew­an belong to Cote First Nation. Multiple phone calls to Whitehawk were not returned.

“There are some that are extremely high and some that are quite low, but at least now the informatio­n is out there and people can make decisions for themselves,” said Colin Craig, Prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

First Nations are required by the First Nations Financial Transparen­cy Act to post audited financial statements on AANDC’s website, including a schedule of remunerati­on and expenses.

By comparison, the mayor of Saskatoon makes a little over $141,000 while the mayor of Regina earns about $125,000 a year in salary.

The average salary for a First Nation politician is $45,619. Some bands receive an honorarium rather than a salary (salaries used in deriving the average only included those who served 12 months on council).

The average total compensati­on is $69,175, which includes compensati­on for all First Nations politician­s, no matter how long they’ve served on council.

Seven First Nations haven’t posted their financial statements — Cowessess, Fishing Lake, Ochapowace, Peter Ballantyne, Poundmaker, Thunderchi­ld and Onion Lake. Onion Lake First Nation filed a lawsuit last year against the federal government over the legislatio­n requiring bands to post financial statements.

English River First Nation had the highest average compensati­on, at $199,938. Chief Marie Black made $297,237 — including a salary of $62,308 and $122,579 in travel expenses. English River First Nation is located about 250 kilometres north of Meadow Lake and has a population of about 1,400 people. For every 100 band members, English River politician­s were compensate­d more than $14,000. For comparison sake, the reeve of the R.M. of Brittania, which has around 1,734 ratepayers, is compensate­d under $15,000 for his work; $862 for every 100 people.

On the other end of the scale is Wahpeton Dakota First Nation Chief Leo Omani. He made a total of $28,659 over 12 months serving the community, which is near Prince Albert. Omani made about $2,019 in salary for every 100 people in the community of 473, plus expenses and travel costs. Omani did not return calls to be interviewe­d.

Heather Bear, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchew­an Indian Nations, said the widely held assumption all First Nation bands are overpaid isn’t fair.

“When you look at pointing out individual­s, I think this happens in every government,” she said. “That’s something for individual nations to deal with.”

Bear argued salaries for First Nations politician­s are justified because those government­s have to deal with more issues with fewer resources than other jurisdicti­ons.

“We’re dealing with some vulnerable communitie­s out there,” she said.

Chiefs and council will often neutralize problems within the community with out-of-pocket money, and have to deal with more than other politician­s, according to Bear. She pointed to health issues, social issues and business decisions. There’s also a high cost of travel for many bands, because they’re located in remote locations.

Bear said funding across the board is inadequate.

“The vast majority are not paid their salt,” she said.

The data gathered by the Leader-Post includes audited statements ending in March 2014. Some of the politician­s included are no longer serving on council.

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