NEWS

First Nation's trip for canonization paid with VLT revenue

10/22/2012 07:57 EDT | Updated 12/22/2012 05:12 EST
Some members of a Manitoba First Nation say they're shocked to hear their chief used the band's video lottery terminal revenue to fly to Rome for the canonization of North America's first aboriginal saint.

Hundreds of Canadians, including many aboriginal people from across the country, were at the Vatican on Sunday to watch Pope Benedict XVI canonize Kateri Tekakwitha.

Among those who travelled to Rome was Chief Donovan Fontaine of the Sagkeeng First Nation, as well as Fontaine's wife and five other band members.

CBC News has learned that their trip was financed with video lottery terminal revenue generated on the First Nation.

Marilyn Courchene, a Sagkeeng member who is studying aboriginal self-governance at the University of Winnipeg, said the band's VLT revenue is supposed to help the community.

"Would Kateri herself allow this to happen when she herself took care of her people?" Courchene said Monday. "That would be the question."

Ninety per cent of VLT revenues generated on First Nations reserves stay on reserve.

According to the Manitoba government, the band's chief and council can do whatever they want with the money, as long as it's used for the benefit of their community.

'I stand by the trip,' says chief

Reached by phone en route back to Canada, Fontaine told CBC News that he paid for his wife's trip expenses out of his own pocket.

He confirmed that the First Nation's VLT money paid for his expenses and those of five other people, at a cost of about $20,000 — money that he insists was well spent.

"I stand by the trip, yeah," Fontaine said.

"I thought it was good, part of reconciliation — residential school, they're talking about that," he added, referring to the trauma many aboriginal Canadians experienced in the residential schools system.

The Sagkeeng band council followed proper protocols when the spending was approved, the chief added.

"How much repairs can you do for a reserve of 700 homes? You can only do so much with $20,000, right?" Fontaine said.

Fontaine said a newsletter is being sent to First Nation members to address their questions about the trip to Rome.

But Courchene said the First Nation's leadership should he more transparent. She is calling on Fontaine to pay back the money and direct it toward community projects.

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