'I've never mismanaged anything': Wrigley chief defends record amid ousting attempt

Chief Maurice Moses says he's done nothing wrong, saying he doesn't understand the accusations against him. Meanwhile, a group in the community wants him replaced.

Chief Maurice Moses says he's not prepared to step down following community move to oust him

A sign for the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation in Wrigley, N.W.T. Some people in the community are attempting to remove Chief Maurice Moses, his council and senior administration. (John Last/CBC)

The chief of the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation in Wrigley, N.W.T., says he won't be stepping down as members of his community call for his resignation. 

This is the latest development after 34 people attended a community meeting Wednesday, which resulted in a call for the resignation of the chief, his council and senior administration. They're claiming the First Nation's leadership has lost the moral authority to govern the community. 

The group present at the meeting voted to draft a band council resolution calling for the ouster, have Lloyd Moses named interim chief, and hold new elections within six weeks. 

"They said I've been mismanaging things, I've never mismanaged anything," Maurice Moses told CBC late Thursday afternoon.

"I try hard for the community," he said. "I'm not here to favour people. I'm not here to satisfy the people. I'm put here to deal with their politics. I don't understand their allegations I've been mismanaging funds. There weren't any funds to begin with."

About 120 people live in the community, which is in the Dehcho region of the Northwest Territories.

We're not doing this out of hatred or jealousy.- Lisa Moses, Community member

Chief Moses was elected as chief of the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation in 2017. His tenure has been marked by turnover on council, with six people resigning their council positions in two occasions since then, according to community members interviewed by CBC News. 

That includes Loyal Moses, who was elected to council alongside the chief, but resigned in May 2018. 

"I stepped down because he wasn't listening to what we [councillors] were saying," he said of the chief.

Thirty-four people attended a community meeting in Wrigley, N.W.T., to discuss concerns with the current chief and council, according to two people who were there Wednesday night. (Submitted by Loyal Moses)

It's been alleged that the chief was not acting in the First Nation's best interest, wasn't communicating with membership, and has not released the First Nation's financial statements to the public for two years, according to Loyal.

"The membership wanted change in the leadership. They're not looking out for the people, they're in it for themselves," he said.

There's been a lot of money that was mismanaged by the previous chief.- Chief Maurice Moses

Gaylene Moses, a former staff member at the First Nation's office with about 20 years of experience, says the chief has blocked attempts to discuss these issues in public for months.

Chief Moses defended his record, and the record of his councillors and band manager, saying he's spent the past two years sorting out irregularities in the finances left by the last chief and council. 

"There's been a lot of money that was mismanaged by the previous chief, so we're trying to straighten out their mess," he said. "When you're doing that, you have to put your foot down." 

He said he's experienced verbal abuse at public meetings in the past when he's tried to talk about money with band membership. 

Lisa Moses, who was also at Wednesday's meeting and is a critic of the chief, says the community members are acting out of frustration with the current administration, not out of personal feelings. 

"We're not doing this out of hatred or jealousy," she said. "We're doing it because they are accountable to us." 

Unclear whether resolution has force of law

It remains unclear whether that resolution, and the votes taken at the meeting, have the force of law, especially as the chief said he won't immediately be stepping down. 

The First Nation conducts its elections under its own custom election code, meaning it's responsible for developing, ratifying and implementing its election rules and procedures, explained Meghan Housely a spokeswoman for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. 

Crown-Indigenous Relations is not involved in elections or leadership selection processes held under custom election codes, Housely said, before directing all further questions to the First Nation. 

Likewise, the territorial government does not have a role in how the First Nation governs itself, explained Jay Boast, a spokesperson for the N.W.T.'s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. 

Wrigley is governed by the Pehzeh Ki First Nation under the Indian Act and its elections rules are not subject to territorial control, Boast said, adding officials are aware of the community meeting and ongoing issues residents have. 

But the territory does have an agreement to provide some services, like water and sewage, to the community. If there is a risk that those services could be disrupted, then territorial officials would work with federal officials to keep those services running, Boast said. 

CBC News has been unable to obtain a copy of the community's custom election code.