In Depth

Transparency Act : Resource company payments to First Nations unveiled

Reports posted online in accordance with new federal law show some bands receive millions from agreements with mining companies.

Most First Nations in northeastern Ontario receive funds from a mining, forestry or power company

CBC went through the financial documents filed by first nations in the northeast under the new First Nations Transparency Act. (file photo)

For the first time, the amount of money northeastern Ontario First Nations receive from agreements with private resource companies has been made public.

The figures were included in financial documents posted under the new First Nations Transparency Act.

First Nations and money... The budgets of bands across the north have been laid bare under the new Transparency Act. Reporter Erik White went through the numbers and shared his findings with us. 9:16

Many bands have been reluctant to discuss specific figures in the past and the impact benefit agreements often prohibit the companies from discussing payment to neighbouring First Nations without band permission.

Some of the most surprising numbers in the newly released financial records are for Moose Cree First Nation on the James Bay Coast.

Its balance sheet shows $1.5 million coming from Detour Gold last year. Also listed under First Nation revenue is $3 million in company stock.

But it also shows Moose Cree losing $6.2 million last year in the sale of Detour Gold shares.

Repeated phone calls and emails to the First Nation's elected officials and administrative staff were not returned.

Most First Nations in northeastern Ontario do get some amount of money from a mining, forestry or power company.

All of the bands along the James Bay Coast receive money from DeBeers, for its Victor diamond mine near Attawapiskat.

Fort Albany received $544,000 under the DeBeers impact benefit agreement last year. 

Chief Andrew Solomon said that money helps make up for what he described as chronic under-funding from the federal government.

"Does it make us rich? No. Keeps us afloat."

Helps to 'balance the books'

Many other First Nations run their own businesses.

A gas station run by Chapleau Cree First Nation made $2.8 million in sales last year, almost double the $1.3 million in federal funding the band receives.

"Very important," Chief Keeter Corston said of the gas bar, which made a profit of $150,000 last year. "That's why we balance our books. That's one of the reasons."

Some of the financial documents are not as clear on where the money comes from, listing multi-million-dollar figures under the vague category of "other revenue."

The documents posted under the new federal law also show that First Nations politicians in northeastern Ontario make significantly more than their municipal counterparts. 

At the high end is Moose Cree First Nation, where chief Norm Hardisty makes $154,000 and even deputy chief Earl Cheechoo makes significantly more than the chiefs in other communities at $112,000.

Repeated calls and emails to Moose Cree were not returned.

Politicians' pay

But most First Nation chiefs in the northeast make between $50,000 and $80,0000, which is significantly more than mayors or reeves of similar sized municipalities.

At the bottom of the salary list is Matachewan First Nation, where the chief makes much less than her counterparts at $18,000 a year.  

Band manager Pam Cormier says she believes First Nation politicians who work part-time are more focused on public service.

"And they don't expect to take advantage of the funds that belong to the band membership," said Cormier, adding that they also keep expenses low, by only travelling to meetings that are "important."

Last year, the average chief in the northeast was reimbursed $22,000 for travel and other expenses, which some bills reaching up over $50,000.

Many elected officials also have day jobs working in the band office, as a clerk, health director or economic development officer, so they get two paycheques.

This is strictly forbidden in municipalities as a conflict of interest, as well as in some First Nations, including Chapleau Cree.

"You're making decisions at the council level that has a lot to do with the job," said Chapleau Cree Chief Keeter Corston. "It's not good business."


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