A dozen members of the Acadia First Nation staged a protest Tuesday, demanding greater accountability and transparency after learning the band allowed one councillor to take $180,000 in cash advances.
Band member Sonya Isaac-Surette said she was shocked to learn the money, which was advanced to Deputy Chief Darlene Coulton, was spent on a gambling addiction.
"Unlike what they say, it was not common knowledge," said Isaac-Surette, who led the protest. "We have no accountability. We ask questions and a lot of the answers we get from them is 'I don't know.’"
She demanded the band invest in a forensic audit to see a complete picture of the Acadia First Nation's finances.
"If they can find the money to give an advancement to a councillor of that magnitude, then why not address the people's concerns?"
Councillor paying back
Coulton wrote a public letter and posted it on the band's website, admitting that some of the $180,000 fuelled her gambling habit. But she was quick to defend any accusations that she was stealing or embezzling the funds.
"I just wanted to prove my point that I was not doing the things that they think I was doing. Running behind back doors and writing out cheques," she said.
Coulton, who has been a councillor for 17 years, said cash advances have always been allowed at the office. Several staff members also took advances but they paid back the money when the news broke out.
Coulton is now on a repayment plan, which will deduct $6,000 a month from her paycheque until the money is returned.
Meanwhile, the chief said there's no need to spend money on a forensic audit.
"The advances are what they are, they're advances," said Deborah Robinson. She met with the protesters to discuss their concerns.
"We all make mistakes along the way, and I think the important thing is to acknowledge them and move forward."
Robinson said everyone who had taken advances has been upfront about the money, so there’s no need for the band to look into the issue further.
Advances are no longer allowed for staff and council at Acadia First Nation. But Isaac-Surette said something should have been done long ago to ensure the money was returned.
"Our band is strapped," she said. "They can't do anything to help anybody."