The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs extended an offer to help its political sister organization today after a spending scandal threatened to overwhelm the Southern Chiefs Organization.
Southern First Nation chiefs suspended their leader, Grand Chief Murray Clearsky, but they allowed him to keep his salary. The decision came Tuesday morning after an all-night session to debate what to do.
They delivered the same penalty to Clearsky’s chief of staff, Mike Bear.
That decision, plus a plan of action to probe the allegations, were the twin results of a marathon session that lasted seven hours overnight at the Victoria Inn.
It is alleged the grand chief used $10,000 of the group’s money on a Minnesota gambling excursion and a trip to an amusement park in August and September. That scandal tainted the lobby group and the more it spread, the worse it got.
Monday night’s session amounted to a trial before his peers; Clearsky intended to give his side of the story to the chiefs and then speak publicly. In the end, with a lawyer at his elbow, the grand chief made no public statements.
He is accused of tapping into the organization’s funds to the tune of $10,000 on excursions to the Mystic Lake Casino in northern Minnesota and a nearby amusement park. The allegations have not been proven.
Mike Bear faces a sexual harassment complaint filed by a former staffer at SCO with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The commission’s investigation is underway but there are no findings yet.
Up till now, political groups such as AMC have quietly watched as the scandal spread from gossip to headlines, all from the sidelines.
But now that the chiefs have acted, the province’s biggest political aboriginal group is stepping forward.
In its statement, it’s clear that AMC sees that whatever happens to SCO will have an affect on AMC, too. The three groups frequently seek each other’s support on specific agendas.
Calls for comment yesterday after the statement was issued were not answered, so exactly what sort of help AMC offered is not clear.
The statement stressed the need for transparency when it comes to spending, especially when it’s a political leader handling the money.
But even more than the specifics, is a broader political principle of fiscal responsibility that now is also at stake, AMC indicated.
That’s especially true for aboriginal groups. While Ottawa has a financial duty to ensure First Nations can argue for their treaty interests, aboriginal lobby groups often find themselves at odds with the federal government across the negotiating table. Funding cuts are a harsh reality for today’s aboriginal groups.
The office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt reminded Manitoba chiefs of their fiscal obligations Monday, warning the chiefs that this scandal has put their funding on the line and they’re better do something quick.
Nepinak said a unity accord in 2011 allowed him to step up now because the accord binds AMC to SCO.
The accord, signed in 2011 between AMC and its sister groups, SCO and the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (northern chiefs), recognized their mutual political goals and set up a formal alliance to work together to advance common interests.
"It is my opinion, that we should also provide support in challenging and difficult times," Nepinak said in the statement.
"Clear lines of communication have to be established and consistently exercised along lines of financial accountability in political organizations. If there are gaps or challenges in ensuring strong lines of communication, AMC is willing to assist in any way we can," the statement read.