The Liard First Nation in Watson Lake, Yukon could be headed to third-party management — a circumstance considered a last resort by the federal government in cases of financial default or allegations of mismanagement.
It’s been six months since the Liard First Nation abruptly laid off about 40 employees in Watson Lake. The federal government is providing what it calls "emergency services" including the distribution of income support, but community members say they don’t know what’s happening with other services and programs.
"Everybody's in the dark," says First Nation member Eileen Van Bibber. "We don't know what happened... when 40 people got laid off. A lot of those young people are out of a job. I don't know what became of our youth program, elders food supplement program, alcohol and drug program… I don't know where things are."
Van Bibber says the bare-bones approach to services is harming First Nation members. She’s also critical of Chief Morris, who she says has not been speaking to members or publishing information.
The LFN elected a new chief, Daniel Morris, in December. The layoffs came abruptly the following month. At the time, the LFN blamed the previous administration of Chief Liard McMillan. In a press release, Chief Morris said the layoffs were an emergency temporary measure.
Six months have passed since then, with no public statements from the chief or First Nation.
The LFN has also failed to produce an audit, which was promised before the elections in December.
‘You can't even reach the leadership’
Aboriginal Affairs is currently pursuing recipient audits of the First Nation’s finances from 2011 to 2013. Another recipient audit will be conducted on the LFN's finances in 2013 and 2014, with results expected to be published in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
Discussions about the recovery management process date back to November 2013, according to George Morgan, who resigned as the First Nation’s executive director this month.
He says it seemed as though the First Nation was about to comply with repeated requests for information from the federal government, going so far as to nominate a co-manager that would work with a third-party manager.
But after the December election, the leadership had a change of heart.
"Where there is a lack of commitment to good governance, sound financial practices and democracy, there can be no success,” he wrote in an email to the CBC. “Without a commitment to regular, open council meetings no progress can be made in addressing the many challenges and issues facing the First Nation.”
Dennis Dixon Lutz is another LFN member who wants to know what's going on.
"It's up in the air. Everything. We don't know. We're not informed, there's no newsletters, no meetings. You can't even reach the leadership. It's not working," he says.
Aboriginal Affairs has not confirmed that third-party management is being considered.
CBC has repeatedly asked the Liard First Nation to comment on this issue. The First Nation has so far declined.
Growing divide with Lower Post, B.C.
As the Liard First Nation shrinks from the public, people are noticing a growing gap between Watson Lake and its sister Kaska community in Lower Post, B.C. where many members of the LFN live.
"It seems as if there's a dividing line there,” says Daniel Porter, a member of the LFN in Lower Post. “Lower Post is trying to move ahead, and probably will move ahead. And Watson Lake, it's hard to say how it's going to play out. There's a lot of unanswered questions.”
Porter says Lower Post has a successful construction company, youth centre and elders' programs. Porter says this is not the case in Watson Lake.
And though he doesn't like the idea of third party management, he accepts it might be helpful.
"Right now the band office is closed, there's a lot of unemployment, a lot of people living on social assistance, no economic development. Nobody really knows anything,” he says. “There's no answers to it, because there's very little communication."
Porter says it would have made sense to put a recovery plan in place for the First Nation.
"I don't know why people were so dead set against it, because if a recovery plan was put in place, we would be self-sufficient again," Porter says. "Liard First Nation should play a big part economically and participating in businesses in Watson Lake. But now that band office is closed, nothing's moving."