No meetings, no assemblies, no audits: Questions surround $500K payment to Liard First Nation

It's been six months since the Yukon government handed a half million dollar cheque to the Liard First Nation, for 'community wellness and capacity development.' One man who hopes to be the next chief wants to know what happened to that money.

Mystery surrounds Yukon government payment for 'community wellness and capacity development'

A Yukon government spokesperson says $500,000 'was paid in full to Liard First Nation,' earlier this year. The funding was intended for 'community wellness and capacity development.' (Philippe Morin/CBC)

It's been six months since the Yukon government handed a half-million dollar cheque to the Liard First Nation, and one man who hopes to be the next chief wants to know what happened to that money.

"It's a legitimate question. Where did the $500,000 go?" asked George Morgan.

The payment was made in January after the Yukon government and the Kaska Nation agreed to set terms to work towards a resource deal.

The First Nation has held no public meetings since signing that deal, as part of the Kaska Nation. It's also failing to abide by federal requirements for transparency.

George Morgan says the Liard First Nation must account for $500,000 received in January from the Yukon government. 'We don't know where that money went,' he said. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Morgan says it's the latest example of a First Nation in disarray. 

"Since Mr. [Daniel] Morris has been in power [as chief], democracy has been eliminated in L.F.N. We don't have council meetings, general assemblies or audits," he said.

"We don't know where that money went." 

No conditions attached

Shari-Lynn MacLellan, who works with the Yukon government's aboriginal relations division, confirms $500,000 "was paid in full to Liard First Nation." 

The funding was intended for "community wellness and capacity development."

Alfred Chief, who's part of a group called Kaska Concerned about Land Protection and Good Government, publicly objected to the payment six months ago, saying the terms were too vague. 

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, Liard First Nation chief Daniel Morris, Ross River Dena Council chief Jack Caesar, and Kaska Dena Council chairperson George Miller sign a framework agreement for resource development in January in Vancouver. (Yukon government)

He says Liard First Nation members "have no idea" what happened to the money, and haven't seen any projects announced.

"There was absolutely no control. It's at the discretion of the chief, I guess," he said. 

Neither Chief Daniel Morris nor any of the First Nation's councillors could be reached for comment.

Federal funding directed to third-party manager

The Yukon government's decision to pay the Liard First Nation directly clashes with federal policy, which has not trusted the leadership with money. 

Since 2014, all of the First Nation's funding from Indigenous and Northern Affairs has gone through a third-party manager. The condition was imposed early in Chief Morris's term, after the First Nation's debts surpassed $700,000.

Health Canada has also pulled its funding from the First Nation's control.

The Liard First Nation is also one of only a handful in Canada that did not abide by the federal First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

Liard First Nation Chief Daniel Morris could not be reached for comment. (CBC)

That requires First Nations to publish information such as a chief and council's salaries, something the Liard First Nation has not done. 

The legislation has been in place since 2013, however, it's unclear whether it's being enforced by the new Liberal government.

The Liard First Nation had been threatened with court action by the previous Conservative government, but Liberal minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett announced in December that the new government was "suspending any court actions against First Nations who have not complied with the act."

Federal gov't 'dropped the ball'

Morgan says that's the wrong move.

"I think the Liberals really dropped the ball on this one," he said.

"I voted Liberal. But who do they support? Do they support the members, or do they support little oligarchies across Canada? Financial accountability is key for our communities to move forward," he said.

Since Chief Morris's term began in 2013, two of four councillors have resigned without being replaced. Morgan served as Morris's executive director for five months before resigning.

The First Nation has not published one annual audit during Morris's three-year term. 

The First Nation's rules would set the next elections for December.