NEWS

Shuswap reserve's spending key issue in band election

11/07/2014 09:39 EST | Updated 01/07/2015 05:59 EST
The small Shuswap First Nation near Invermere, B.C., is going to the polls today. And some band members are hoping to see a different government elected after the band's finances came to light under a new federal law.

About 200 band members are eligible to vote in today's band election on the Shuswap First Nation, but fewer than 90 people live on the reserve.

It has had the same chief for more than three decades.

Barb Coté is running for re-election.

She was elected two years ago, but has yet to be given an office or much of a role in the band.

'I have been shut out'

"From the moment I walked in the door as the new councillor I have been given no information," she said. "I have been shut out."

Coté says it's an example of how the band's chief, Paul Sam, and his ex-wife, Alice Sam, have run the nation for more than 30 years.

She is the only band councillor who is not a member of the Sam family. 

Coté also claims the chief did not allow her to look at any audits or financial statements.

Those financial statements were eventually released, because of a new federal law that forces bands to make their books public.

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Under the act, First Nations must post their audited financial statements for the last fiscal year online.

Financial concerns

Many on the reserve have asked questions for more than a decade about the band's spending, even going so far as to occupy the band office demanding answers that until now went unanswered.

The Shuswap band's documents show Chief Sam and his ex-wife were paid more than $200,000 a year — nearly four times more than Coté.

It's also alleged that millions more in unexplained expenses funded Chief Sam and his family's lavish lifestyle.

Expenditures under the category of "other" totalled nearly $2.5 million over two years.

"Really nice big Harleys, big trucks. Just lots of trips," said Coté.

She says she believes that tens of millions could have been misspent by Chief Sam and his family over the last three decades while other band members were told there was no money for education and home improvements. 

Some living without running water

Ida Rivers is one of those people. She has been living without running water or an indoor toilet for more than a year and a half.

"No, it's not fun," she said. "It gets cold going up to the mine road and getting water in the winter." 

Rivers says she asked the chief for help, but little has changed.

"One year after elections I had asked him for help and he says, 'I don't see that I should have to because you don't vote for me anyway,'" she said. 

Band member Cecilia Teneese told CBC News last week that she has also been denied a house on the reserve for 20 years.

CBC tried repeatedly to speak with Chief Sam or other members of his family but were told they were unavailable and not going to talk until after the election. 

But this time voters will know how their money was spent in the past before choosing who will write the cheques in the future.

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