Paul First Nation plagued by money woes

Chief Casey Bird from the Paul First Nation says his band is $3 million in debt because of a string of expensive emergencies and bills that have piled up from previous council.

Some cheques have bounced in the community west of Edmonton

A First Nation leader west of Edmonton says his community is in financial crisis.

Paul First Nation Chief Casey Bird said taking care of the $3 million band deficit is his first goal. ((CBC))

Chief Casey Bird, from the Paul First Nation, says the band is $3 million in debt, partially due to emergency spending.

Band spokesperson Dennis Paul said they are still trying to recover from a fire in April of 2010.

He also said royalties from gas wells in the area haven’t generated as much revenue for the band, compared to previous years.

As the First Nation slides further into money trouble, the more than 1,000 people who live there are starting to feel the effects.

The local gas station has closed the band’s account due to a lack of funds and school buses have not been running regularly.

As well, some residents have discovered there isn't enough money in the bank to cover their social services cheques. 

Like a Third World country

"It's sad. It's pathetic," band member Trevor Bird, whose social services cheque did not clear, told CBC News. Bird said he felt like he was living in a Third World country "stuck in the middle of a beautiful province."

Bird, who has been on medical disability since 2008, said it has been difficult for him to get by without benefits and finds the situation frustrating.

"I mean you should be able to go to the bank and cash a cheque," he said. He added there has been a lot of "passing the buck" among community leaders, but he also claims poor budgeting for the problem.

"They should be ashamed of themselves," another band member, Carol Thompkins, told CBC News.

But Veronica Rain Bearhead, who works at the tribal administration office, said the situation is complicated . 

"We’ve had some problems, but there are a lot of contributing factors to that," said Rain Bearhead.

She said Aboriginal and North Affairs Canada (ANAC) withheld funding and that is affecting things.

Previous councils created mess, chief says

Many families are waiting for new homes but the band is also short of money to meet housing needs.

"The money that we get for housing is not enough," Chief Bird told CBC News."We have to find other ways, the money you get sometimes you have to spend it on emergencies, like we had washouts here."

Chief Bird said previous band councils should bear some of the blame for the financial problems.

"They created this mess and we're here to clean it up and try to look forward," he said, adding his first goal is to fix their deficit.

An accounting firm is working with the band to sort things out and scrape together enough cash to keep school buses on the road.

But things aren't all bad Chief Bird insisted, pointing out that a new health centre was being built.

The band also represents the Buck Lake Indian Reserve and the Wabamun Lake Indian Reserve.