Racism taints Kwikwetlem reporting

This week we learned that Ron Giesbrect has been re-elected as Chief of the Kiwkwetlem band. The following was first published here October 8, 2014

My initial reaction to reports of compensation paid Kwikwetlem First Nations Chief Ron Giesbrecht was wrong. Until details were gained, I assumed he had abused public funds. That reaction was encouraged by cursory media reports that were shaped by common prejudices, reinforced by what lawyer Joseph Fearon calls an “example of the ‘corrupt chief’ narrative.”

In Fearon’s excellent article, he explains the reality of income tax exemptions, which are tied to other issues and restrictions,

“For the most part, the tax exemptions in the Indian Act are also not a result of (fair or otherwise) bargaining between Canada and First Nations. In fact, the Indian Act is a piece of legislation that was imposed on First Nations people by the Canadian government.”

In late July, federal Conservatives began posting audited financial statements of Canada’s First Nations. Within hours, news organizations were churning out revelations that were short on detail but loaded with indignation. National Post immediately had writers Paula Simons, Sammy Hude and John Ivison on the subject. Every Canadian media organization was involved; a Google search [Kwikwetlem “Ron Giesbrecht” pay] showed 34,000 results.

The Kwikwetlem pay story was especially important news at Postmedia, with additional reports and commentaries by Peter O’Neil, Rob Shaw, Jennifer Hough, Jeremy Deutsch, Tamsyn Burgmann, Mark Milke, Kelly Sinoski, Chad Skelton, Chris Selley, Tristin Hopper, Jordan Bateman, Derek Fildebrand and others. Thousands of reader comments gave emphasis to the outrage, including many rants coloured by racism and ignorance.

I found that strange because while preparing a recent article about Postmedia, I discovered the failing company’s CEO, Paul Godfrey, scored a 50% raise in 2013, bringing his compensation to $1.7 million. He got rewarded lavishly – a term Postmedia used in stories described above – even though his company has suffered losses in every year of its existence, has failed regularly to meet financial objectives promised investors and is sustained only by selling its assets, the supply of which will soon be exhausted. It is the corporate equivalent of an arthritis sufferer amputating limbs to lessen pain.

So, did Paul Godfrey’s $600,000 raise draw attention from a platoon of Postmedia writers? Well, not quite. The only report about the boss’s compensation was an inaccurate one that disclosed nothing of a massive raise and just part of his pay package. The equivalent would have been to report that Ron Giesbrecht earned $84,800 as Chief and Development Officer. In the Financial Post, Christine Dobby wrote,

“Postmedia said Friday it extended Mr. Godfrey’s contract, which includes a base salary of $950,000, until the end of 2016.”

Ron Giesbrecht was rewarded by a percentage of gross profits on development projects that allowed the band to increase its revenues by $10 million or 455% in a single year. The money gained is controlled by the Kwikwetlem Council and is available for whatever purposes the band members decide.

Despite what has been reported by media, the Chief did not, by himself, make a deal for himself. The vast majority of his compensation was not from funds provided by governments for capital projects, education, social or other programs. It came from commercial arrangements, negotiated with outside parties who found the agreements satisfactory for their purposes. Were it not for bigotry, the business press (and the CTF) would be applauding Kwikwetlem FN profitability and movement toward self-sufficiency.

Undoubtedly, many organizations make arrangements to share profits earned by their enterprises. As noted above, some provide rewards even in the absence of profits. Arrangements may be lavish; they may be austere, but in nearly every case not involving indigenous people, those are the affairs of organization managers and stakeholders. If the deal between the Kwikwetlem band members and their Chief was properly authorized and documented, there should be little more to say. According to the audit report prepared by independent professional accountants, there were no problems:

“The Kwikwetlem First Nation maintains systems of internal accounting and administrative controls of high quality, consistent with reasonable cost. Such systems are designed to provide reasonable assurance that the financial information is relevant, reliable and accurate and the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s assets are appropriately accounted for and adequately safeguarded.

“The Kwikwetlem First Nation Council is responsible for ensuring that management fulfills its responsibilities for financial reporting and is ultimately responsible for reviewing and approving the financial statements.

“The Council meets periodically with management, as well as the external auditors, to discuss internal controls over the financial reporting process, auditing matters and financial reporting issues, to satisfy themselves that each party is properly discharging their responsibilities, and to review the financial statements and the external auditors report.”

Plutocrats and their media supplicants may be uncomfortable with shifting away from paternalistic treatment of First Nations and making fair resolutions for the harms caused. However, those are realities of 2014. The constitution and the Supreme Court of Canada dictate changed attitudes and a new style of cooperation.

Guess which person drew media outrage?

15 replies »

  1. First of all, I am not a first nations member, and I don't agree with anyone receiving an $800,000 bonus for any reason, but regarding this whole discussion whether or not Ron Giesbrecht should have received the $800,000 bonus, it's up to band members to decide that, as it is their money, not money provided to them by Govt. That $ did NOT COME FROM THE PUBLIC PURSE! His salary as chief as provided by the Canadian Govt was $4800. His bonus was provided as Economic Development Officer. It is up to his band to decide if that contract as EDO was negotiated properly, not the National Post or the Federal Govt.


  2. It's never the public purse or taxpayers' money. Indian money comes from resource revenue trusts. They've put themselves in charge of Indian money for about 150 years. Crooked Canada is more than willing to perpetuate Natives as a taxpayer drain because it is a good distraction from the fact they pay themselves from money meant for Indians. That money comes out of resources that are legally First Nations.


  3. But there's never a problem when a rich white guy walks away with millions in bonuses for mediocre performance, amirite?


  4. Seems the Harper Government wants First Nations bands to be much more transparent and accountable than they are willing to be themselves. Many Conservatives want to impose similar rules on labour organizations, demanding that broad information be made available to non-members. Of course, the details of how Conservative party funds get spent (Duffy et al) is no one's business outside Harper's circle.


  5. According to their March 2014 financial statements, Kwikwetlum FN had large revenues from Quantum Murray LP, a remediation company dealing in contaminated soil, earth, rock, steel, demolition debris, etc., Kiewit, BC Hydro, the Province of BC and others.

    Oddly, while the FN band reports over $8 million project revenue from the BC Government, there is no like amount reported on the province's comprehensive list of detailed payments. It seems that the FN band is more transparent than the Liberal government.

    I find it disconcerting that, while the recipient declares millions in revenue from British Columbia, the government reports nothing like that amount in thesame fiscal year. It may be that the province paid money and recovered it from the public private partnership building the 7 mile long Evergreen Line transit extension in Coquitlam. That P3 group involves an ethically challenged organization that has had close ties to Christy Clark: SNC-Lavalin Inc.


  6. Makes you want to throw up, doesn't it? And just where does Kiewit, BC Hydro and SNC-Lavalin Inc get the money to pay the Kwikwetlum's? From the taxpayer of course. Shadow tolls etc.
    I wonder how many 10%s are included in those payments?


  7. As I said on Twitter, the five top hedge fund managers gained a combined $11.5 B in 2013.

    For each of them, that is more than 2,500 times what Ron Giesbrecht earned. Guess which story went viral in Canadian media? That is prima facie evidence of biased reporting, IMO.

    Another example this day: CBC reported that thousands of people were demonstrating in Montreal against bombing of Gaza. Pictures showed many thousands. Postmedia's Montreal Gazette ran a story on their website today that said hundreds demonstrated. Bias?


  8. You're absolutely right, Norm. This is a smear job reminding of a similar one attempted at Attawapiskat. That odious affair singled out one of hundreds of First Nation bands across Canada which resort to creative book-keeping of parsimonious compensation for past wrongs against them. The only thing special about Attawapiskat, compared to any number of other FNs in similar straits, is there's a long-runway airport into which droves of reporters could easily fly to photo-record sordid scenes of poverty which the feds hoped would indicate malicious misappropriation of so-called “tax-payers' dollars. In my view the target was a smear against all FNs in preparation for the anticipated legal and political battle over Northern Gateway pipeline. Only problem was, aside from being completely unfair, it fomented the Idle-No-More movement with such unexpected resolve, Harper had to back down and his Minister resign. In retrospect, it was another nail in Northern Gateways coffin—all but nailed shut by subsequent events.

    The attempted Kwikwetlem smear originated from federal Conservative Minister Valcour's office and was pumped up by his lapdog, the far-right National Tax Nut Association, using the most hyperbolic rhetoric it could get away with, and is as racist and disgusting as that attempted in Attawapiskat. Considering the shellackings his government has been taking over pipelines and Aboriginal rights, you'd think Harper would give it a rest. But this is a dish he'd rather eat cold, I guess.


  9. Harper and his herd achieved their goal when the media and public went ape shit over a First Nations chief receiving a bonus. The friction and “outrage” it created, is exactly what harper wanted.

    Even M.P.s can't find out how much some of harper's herd makes, in the P.M.,O. and that is our money, harper wants the rest of the population to become unhappy with First Nations so when he really takes a run at them, the rest of Canada will just sit back and let it happen.

    when harper and his herd decided they wanted transparency, it was something else at play. I'd like to see a lot more of harper's herds financials up on line. Not going to happen. I'd like to see more of harper's herd's friends and corporations making information available. Not going to happen. We have only to look at all the F.O.I. requests which are denied. Hell transparency? anyone who believes that, I have a bridge to sell you along with a pristine lake around Likely, B.C.


  10. Well said. This whole thing is a great example of FNs getting Hampered up the Harper-hole by biased media coverage Sorry to be so crude, but it's true. Hopefully they'll escape without a bad case of Harperoids (thanks to my brother in law for that word).


  11. Some say the internal machinations of the band are none of the general public’s business. I say that to the extent public money and assets are involved, we have a right to question at least one side of the deal.

    BC Public Accounts shows a payment to the Kwikwetlem First Nation in the amount of $8,225,000 in fiscal 2013/14. That payment was publicly reported to be in exchange for the band’s relinquishment of any aboriginal claim to a 236-hectare plot of Crown land on Burke Mountain near the Kwikwetlem reserve.

    What would the general public say if Christy Clark approved a contract purportedly negotiated on our behalf from which she personally benefited to the tune of $800,000 in public money? We would rightly be screaming bloody murder about an obvious conflict of interest. Why is the principle any different when the approval official on the other side of the same deal is an elected First Nations Chief, and it’s the same public money? Some band members obviously don’t think it’s any different.

    Some of them filed a lawsuit against Chief Giesbrecht last October, claiming he failed to obtain prior informed consent from band members before making the deal, but that suit was withdrawn. A new lawsuit has been launched subsequent the recent election to recover the bonus taken by Giesbrecht. He has indeed been reelected as chief, although in a band of 81 people, the size of your family can be more of a determinant than your performance record. In any case, that’s their business, and the band members are dealing with the issues on their side of the deal. Who knows, they may ultimately decide the deal was in their best interests. But what about the other BC taxpayers?

    In my view there should be more attention given by the general public to the source of that $8 million from which the controversial bonus was derived. BC taxpayers paid it to facilitate selling off a 236-hectare plot of public land to a development company owned by a family that has contributed over a million dollars to the BC Liberal party in the last few years. It seems that in some cases the determinant is not the size of the family, but the size of the family wallet.

    ProMedia has been all over Chief Giesbrecht but don’t seem to have the same appetite for challenging the BC Liberals about why and how they’re cutting side deals with First Nations when it favors their donors, while at the same time abandoning the main treaty negotiations. What is the rationale for recognizing the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s claim to the Burke Mountain land but not its claim to the Colony Farm site, for instance? Are decisions being made piece-meal on land claims based not on the validity of the claim, but on who might want to exploit the resource?

    The real winners in this deal were not Mary and Joe six-pack; aboriginal or otherwise.


  12. “ProMedia has been all over Chief Giesbrecht but don’t seem to have the same appetite for challenging the BC Liberals about why and how they’re cutting side deals with First Nations when it favors their donors”…….like the half million dollars given to the Sechelt Band as long as they invest in the Narrows Inlet IPP project


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