Community members in Little Buffalo, Alta. are demanding answers about where millions of dollars were spent.
The community, located about 400 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, is surrounded by the oil and gas industry. It's part of a First Nation that runs the Cree Development Corporation (CDC), a non-profit that has generated millions through contracts with the energy industry.
Despite that, Cheryl Ominayak, who has lived in Little Buffalo for 28 years, says her way of life has changed very little. She draws water from a barrel and uses an outhouse.
“Summer bugs are bad but you have to use it — no running water,” Ominayak said of the outhouse.
Five hundred people live in Little Buffalo. They are members of the Lubicon Lake band, a First Nation that has never signed a treaty with the government — and a community where living conditions are deplorable.
“We are probably about the only community in northern Alberta that doesn’t have running water. Our infrastructure is basically non-existent,” said Chief Billy Joe Laboucan.
Millions of dollars
Billy Joe Laboucan was voted in as chief of the Lubicon Lake band in 2013, in the first federally recognized election for the band. He commissioned an audit to find out where all the revenue generated by CDC went.
The auditor went through thousands of cheques and bank records and found that over a four-year period the directors of the CDC paid themselves close to $3 million.
One of those directors was former chief and longtime leader Bernard Ominayak, who received 99 payments totalling $1.5 million.
The auditor's report didn't suggest that any money was misspent. But it recommended that the corporation keep more detailed and thorough financial records.
There was never any indication on the cheques why the directors were being paid, and what the money was being used for.
Ominayak and a few dozen people in Little Buffalo did not recognize the last election, and still consider Ominayk to be in charge. CBC News was told he was unavailable to answer questions about the audit.
But another director, Bryan Laboucan, agreed to an interview.
“All the money that the people earned in CDC was hard-earned money. We have nothing to hide about the audit," he said.
Laboucan said all the payments were issued because the directors were buying construction equipment so they could bid on jobs.
But that explanation doesn't sit well with many in the community.
"Shame on them, shame on them. I think everyone around this community deserves an apology,” said community member Denise Ominayak.
Cheryl Ominayak also wants answers.
"Where did they put the money? They obviously didn't give it to us community members because we all live in old mouldy, rotten houses."
The province — in a rare move — has stepped in to provide trailers that have water tanks and septic systems.
That will solve the problem with the mould and lack of running water for some people in the community, but the questions and the distrust continue to linger.
Chief Laboucan would like to see restorative justice healing circles put in place, so that the community can come together and move forward.