Sahtu Secretariat fronts $5M for Northern takeover of Mackenzie Mountain outfitter
Money was given to Sahtu land corporations to purchase Ram Head Outfitters
The seven land corporations in N.W.T.'s Sahtu region have teamed up to purchase an outfitting company in the Mackenzie Mountains, thanks to a loan from the Sahtu Secretariat.
But the purchase, which has yet to be formally announced, is being questioned for its cost and lack of public scrutiny.
Ethel Blondin-Andrew, the chair of the secretariat, says it lent the corporations about $5 million to purchase Ram Head Outfitters, a family-run business. The company, which was recently put up for sale, has taken people on summer trips to hunt Dall sheep, mountain caribou, Alaskan-Yukon moose, wolves and wolverines since the early 1980s.
"I'm not the least bit hesitant or reticent about getting that land back from outsiders," said Blondin-Andrew.
"We do that on behalf of the beneficiaries. We do it for a good purpose."
Blondin-Andrew says that a southern, non-Indigenous company had made a bid for Ram Head, and that the corporations took advantage of a clause in the Sahtu land claim agreement giving Sahtu groups first dibs on the purchase of any outfitting companies operating in the region.
Asked about the land corporation's loan amount, Blondin-Andrew said the sum was largely determined by the first bidder.
"They set the price. The land corporations have to meet that price or better it in order to exercise their right of first refusal.
"In a sense, you have only so much leverage for negotiations."
'That's just a no-no, period'
Walter Blondin, a Sahtu beneficiary living in Fort Simpson and Blondin-Andrew's brother, is questioning the wisdom of the loan and says beneficiaries weren't consulted about it.
"The general populace in the communities was not informed right to this day that $5 million of their money was spent by SSI as a loan to the leaders," he said.
"That's just a no-no, period. That doesn't happen. I don't care what Ethel says."
Sahtu beneficiaries have been told nothing about the value of the company, he added.
"What is it going to be over the long period of time? What return is it going to provide the membership? How quickly will the money be paid back? Who's going to manage it?"
'Rainy day fund'
Blondin said he has tried to contact the secretariat's executive director, David Little, for details, but to no avail.
Little, when contacted by CBC News, referred inquiries to Blondin-Andrew.
When asked if the money for the loan came from the Sahtu Trust — the source of land claim money distributed to beneficiaries in the seven Sahtu communities — Blondin Andrew said, "We have different pots of money that are designated for different things. I want to be sure about this. I can't answer that right now."
She later said the money came from an SSI "rainy day fund."
Blondin-Andrew invited her brother to this summer's annual Sahtu gathering to discuss his concerns.
On the website for the now-defunct Ram Head Outfitters, former owner Stan Simpson has posted, "We have no details on the management and operations of the new outfit, or their experience in running an outfitting area."
But Blondin-Andrew says the company, which has been renamed Canol Outfitters under its new owners, will be managed by guide Glenda Groat, whom Blondin-Andrew called a "godsend."