‘Every First Nation is laughing at us’: Million-dollar chief’s band outraged
COQUITLAM, B.C. – Members of the Kwikwetlem First Nation are calling for their chief’s resignation after learning he took home almost $1 million in pay last year.
A salary disclosure document uploaded to the band website this week revealed Ron Giesbrecht made $914,219 and claimed $16,574 in expenses in the fiscal year that ended in March.
Leaders at the 81-person First Nation said the bulk of that salary – $800,000 – came from a contracted bonus he received in his role as economic development officer.
But that explanation hasn’t satisfied some of Giesbrecht’s embarrassed band members, who held an impromptu press conference at the Metro Vancouver reserve Friday to distance themselves from him.
“Every First Nation is laughing at us right now,” Glen Joe said. “Ron never called a meeting to say he was earning this kind of money, and that he deserved it.”
Members claimed the hefty bonus is even more outrageous given ongoing financial struggles in the band, and said there are Kwikwetlem elders relying on food banks to eat.
Giesbrecht received the $800,000 as a 10 per cent cut of a land deal with the B.C. government. Victoria said the details are confidential, and wouldn’t confirm whether the deal involved the former Riverview Hospital, which is on land the Kwikwetlem Nation considers traditional territory.
CTV News caught up with Giesbrecht Friday but he refused to answer questions about his surprising salary, which nearly triples that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He has promised to spend the weekend addressing the concerns of his members, however.
“As chief of the Nation, I’ve been talking to my band members that elected me as chief, and I’m going through that process right now. I actually have an elder in the officer right now that I’m talking to,” he said.
Giesbrecht has promised to make an announcement about what will happen to his $800,000 bonus on Aug. 7.
The terms of his contract, including the 10 per cent bonus for securing capital projects, were passed on to Giesbrecht when he took over the economic development officer position in September, according to the band. The bonus was removed during contract renegotiations in April.
Kwikwetlem’s financial documents were made public in compliance with Canada’s controversial Financial Transparency Act. Ottawa has said bands that refuse could see payments withheld and grant agreements terminated.
The second highest salary at Kwikwetlem went to Ed Hall, who earned just $52,350.
The First Nation is located on a small parcel of land east of the Trans-Canada Highway near the Fraser River. Of its 81 members, only 35 live on the reserve.
According to the federal government, close to 40 per cent of the homes there need to be repaired or replaced.
“I trust that the members of that community would rather have their band council invest in housing units than paying a chief close to a million dollars tax-free,” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt told CTV News.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Peter Grainger