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Harry Sharphead, chief of the Enoch Cree Nation, says his salary has been cut twice since he was elected eight months ago. ((CBC))

The chief of the Enoch Cree Nation is defending his salary of $180,000 a year — which, because it is tax-free, means he earns more than Alberta's premier.

Harry Sharphead has been chief of the Enoch Cree, whose reserve is just west of Edmonton, for eight months. Two months into his term, he and the band councillors — who earn roughly the same — cut their salaries.

They were over $300,000 and were reduced to $250,000 and then to $180,000, Sharphead said.

"The group of council today, we're working on looking at our budgets and we're even willing to go down further."

The salaries were raised during the economic boom, and have been reduced in response to the recession and the Enoch nation's $8-million deficit, he said.

The salaries came to light because of a document delivered to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said Colin Craig, Prairie director for the CTF.

"The first sentence in this document is that the person is writing to us out of pure frustration," Craig said. "That's something that we hear from people across the country far too often. People on reserves are trying to get information, but they're being denied."

Salaries for the chief and the nine council members were shared with people on the reserve at band meetings, said Sharphead.

'I don't believe in hiding stuff.' —Harry Sharphead, Enoch chief

"Currently the nation is trying to set up a website for our off-reserve nations too where they have full access to everything. I don't believe in hiding stuff," he said.

Sharphead defended the remuneration because of the risk associated with a two-year term.

"If we don't get re-elected in our second term, we have nothing," he said. "We have to come back to the nation for a job. Hopefully we get one. So, this salary kind of helps with that. So you can save."

The average salary for elected chiefs across Canada averaged $60,000 for 2008-09, according to a spokesperson for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). They ranged from a low of no pay to a high of $250,000.

For councillors, the average salary for 2008-09 was $30,000, ranging from no compensation to $216,000. 

The department can only release salary information to band members, for legal reasons, the spokesperson said. Bands are required to provide that information, but INAC will get involved if a band member can't get the information from their council.

The taxpayers federation is calling on the federal government to put salary information for all chiefs and councils across the country on its website.