Audit flagged double payments, missing money during FSIN candidate's term as Kawacatoose chief
Darin Poorman was chief at Kawacatoose First Nation when federal audit found 'serious weakness' in finances
Following a standoff this month over who should be the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations' interim chief, CBC News has learned of separate concerns about financial management on a Saskatchewan First Nation under the leadership of a candidate for the first vice-chief position in next month's elections.
Darin Poorman was chief at the Kawacatoose First Nation when a tornado ripped through the community, 115 kilometres north of Regina, in 2010. More than a dozen homes were destroyed, along with other infrastructure. Relief money came from the federal government, benefit concerts and other sources.
Eventually, some residents complained about the lack of help they were getting from the band and the federal government conducted an audit of its spending.
CBC News has reviewed the eight-page document, which found "serious weakness" in financial controls in Kawacatoose.
It says Poorman and his council couldn't explain how hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent.
Salary went from $65K to $105K
The audit states that leaders could not account for $311,000 in payments allegedly made to emergency workers in July 2010, following the tornado.
In August, $256,000 was withdrawn from the emergency account but only $540 was paid out to emergency workers.
"Key individuals in this community could not offer any explanation on this matter," the report stated. The same sentence is used in other sections of the report.
As FSIN's role changes … it becomes increasingly important that all candidates for positions be sort of known entities, that people have a clear understanding of what their record is, on the good side or the not-so-good side.- Ken Coates, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
Cheque requisition forms were left blank but the cheques were issued anyway, the audit found.
Chief and council also voted in 2011-12 to nearly double their pay. As chief of the First Nation of 3,000 people — 1,100 of whom live on reserve — Poorman's annual salary jumped from $65,000 to $105,000. Councillors went from $38,000 to $75,000.
The report stated they accepted meeting payments while also collecting their regular pay. They were each paid $200 per meeting, "including when several board meetings were held on the same day."
Following the investigation, roughly $90,000 was recovered by the federal government, said William Olscamp of Indigenous Services Canada. No further action was taken.
"Our government takes allegations of misuse of funds very seriously," Olscamp said in an email.
"The department has a process in place to confirm that Department funds are used for their intended purposes."
Audit 'good for transparency': Poorman
In an interview this week, Poorman said he prefers to focus on the positive. He said the audit helped the First Nation improve its financial controls.
"It actually was good for us, good for transparency and accountability. So my track record in that particular area is pretty good," Poorman said.
It's important that FSIN voters know exactly what that track record is, say experts.
"It should be relevant to the delegates. They should be informed about these things," said former Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations executive member Doug Cuthand.
"As FSIN's role changes and expands and shifts over time, it becomes increasingly important that all candidates for positions be sort of known entities, that people have a clear understanding of what their record is, on the good side or the not-so-good side," said Ken Coates, a Canada Research Chair at the University of Saskatchewan's Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.
Coates and Cuthand said the federal government has placed far more restrictions and conditions on First Nations leaders, whose reporting duties are far more onerous than those of leaders in other levels of government.
However, they said a candidate's track record in their previous post is important.
University of Saskatchewan Indigenous studies professor Bonita Beatty agreed voters and colleagues must hold candidates accountable.
She said elections can produce controversial candidates and results, pointing to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump.
"It's a democracy. Anybody can run," Beatty said.
Difficult choice for voters
Cuthand said delegates in next month's FSIN elections face a difficult choice for first vice-chief.
If they're concerned about Poorman's record, the only other candidate is former FSIN chief and vice-chief Morley Watson.
Cuthand said Watson "caused a considerable amount of damage" when he ordered the raiding of First Nations University of Canada offices several years ago.
The institution's enrolment plummeted and it was placed on probation for disrespecting academic freedom, Cuthand said.
In an interview, Watson said his drastic actions were necessary, noting the fraud conviction against staff that resulted.
Watson said he's also focusing on the positive and declined to address the federal government's audit.
"Put the facts on the table and the chiefs will make the right choice," Watson said.
When asked what their top priorities will be if they win, Watson said it was improving education for Indigenous youth while Poorman said his was "re-establishing the integrity of the FSIN."
The elections take place Oct. 25 in Saskatoon.
Bobby Cameron is running for re-election as chief against Thunderchild First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass.
Watson and Poorman are contesting the first vice-chief spot.
Edward "Dutch" Lerat is running again for third vice-chief, along with Little Pine First Nation Coun. Christine Jack and Beardy's and Okemasis First Nation teacher Corey Bugler.
The second and fourth vice-chief positions are not up for re-election.