A First Nations investment firm formed to create wealth for aboriginal people is under fire again, this time from the province's top aboriginal leader.
But the company, Tribal Councils Investment Group (TCIG), says it is the victim of persistent, false rumours and political interference.
"We are doing all the right things," said TCIG president and chief executive officer Allan McLeod. "We operate at the highest levels of corporate accountability and transparency."
Last week, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans stepped into a long-percolating dispute over how TCIG is run and how much of the company's profits ought to flow back into struggling reserves.
In a series of letters sent to tribal councils across the province, Evans asked for an independent auditor to review how senior staff and directors at TCIG are paid. He also asked TCIG to suspend McLeod's signing authority over TCIG's bank accounts and repeated a long-standing demand that TCIG provide copies of bylaws, financial statements, investment valuations, board meeting minutes and other documents to shareholders. Evans acted at the direction of an AMC resolution after several chiefs met late last month.
"Assertions were made of 'divide-and-conquer' tactics, false information being presented to tribal council members and/or shareholders with the goal of persuading them to sign certain resolutions and failure to provide full disclosure of internal documents despite repeated requests to do so," wrote Evans in a letter to TCIG after the chiefs' meeting.
The war of words has highlighted the confusing and conflicting network of chiefs who sit on TCIG's board and also make up the AMC and the tribal councils. Some of the same chiefs demanding more accountability from TCIG once sat on the investment group's board and signed several resolutions applauding the way the company was run.
The AMC, the chiefs' primary political organization, has no direct control over TCIG.
The company's shareholders are the seven regional tribal councils. In letters sent to all seven tribal councils last week, Evans asked each one to exercise its shareholder right to demand a TCIG board meeting to consider three motions: one asking for copies of all corporate documents, one asking for an audit of all payments to board members and senior staff and one suspending McLeod's financial control.
But McLeod said some chiefs operate on the false notion that TCIG makes $100 million in profits that it hoards instead of turning it back to tribal council shareholders.
TCIG's annual revenue in 2009 was $76 million, but after the expenses of running several enterprises and paying $770,000 in dividends to the tribal councils, the company's net profits were about $1.3 million. That money is earmarked for investments into new enterprises to allow TCIG to grow.
McLeod accused Evans of seeking to smear TCIG and interfere politically in an independent business. And he said TCIG is bound by a level of corporate confidentiality needed to remain competitive.
Lawyers have been brought in on both sides, and TCIG says it will seek compensation if the company's reputation has been damaged. Late last week, Evans, who would not comment on the disagreement, and McLeod sought a rapprochement.
Some of the province's chiefs and tribal councils say they have been trying for years to get access to financial statements. In 2009, Swampy Cree Tribal Council threatened to sue TCIG because the tribal council said the company refused to provide copies of budgets, strategic plans, bylaws, meeting minutes and more.
-- was founded in 1990 with $175,000 -- $25,000 from seven tribal councils. Its goal is "to contribute to First Nations' self-sufficiency by generating wealth and being a major player in the Canadian and international economies."
-- has invested in several Manitoba businesses, including Exchange Income Corp. (owner of Perimeter Airlines, Calm Air and Keewatin Airways), Artis REIT and Precambrian Wholesale, which supplies a wide range of dry goods to independent retailers across the North. Arctic Beverages, which bottles and distributes Pepsi products, is probably TCIG's best-known company.
-- has paid out more than $20 million in dividends over the last 20 years to the seven tribal councils.