Alberta First Nation members achieve win in battle for financial accountability
'It’s the tip of the iceberg, but at the same time it’s a start in a whole new direction'
Last October, dozens of community members marched through the snow-covered roads of Samson Cree Nation calling for a forensic audit to scrutinize band spending.
One year later, they're one step closer to getting their wish.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada confirmed that a complaint from the community, 100 kilometres south of Edmonton, has triggered what is called a "scoping exercise" — a federal-backed examination by an auditor of previous band spending.
- Samson Cree members demand audit of chief and council
- Samson Cree leaders deny financial wrongdoing as critics rally for audit
"The purpose of the scoping exercise is to determine if the allegations have merit and if a forensic audit is required," INAC wrote in an emailed statement.
The development comes just over a year after band members from Alexander First Nation, 40 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, leaked a document to CBC News revealing an audit that uncovered $2.1-million in unexplained payments to a former chief and band employees.
The news emboldened band members from other communities to go public with their own struggles for accountability, echoing concerns that federal funds were failing to reach their communities beset by poverty, addiction, suicide, violence, inadequate housing and other issues.
The concerns came alongside repeated criticism of a broken system that puts up barriers to accountability and consultation of the people.
"There's no mechanism in place for accountability and transparency for sovereign nations here," said Greene. "We want to know: Where is our money being spent? Why isn't it reaching us?"
- Improve rules governing First Nation spending, critics demand
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The victory at Samson Cree took the efforts of many, according to Greene. They lobbied at both the federal and provincial levels and drew on experiences of communities such as Alexander.
An election last May ushered in a new chief and several councillors who are supportive of the process, said Greene. The new leaders, who campaigned on a platform of financial accountability, will now have to put their money where their mouth is, she added.
We want to know: Where is our money being spent? Why isn't it reaching us?- Sherry Greene, Samson Cree Nation
The ongoing battles on individual reserves also appear to be giving life to a wider movement, support-network and consciousness.
Greene said it involves members from communities stretching across the country — New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon — all calling on the Liberal government to take action.