Backlash as Canada reveals big salaries for aboriginal leaders

Fri Aug 1, 2014 2:06pm EDT
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By Andrea Hopkins

TORONTO (Reuters) - A Canadian aboriginal leader was paid nearly C$1 million last year by his community, one of many large compensation packages revealed this week under a new law that has sparked concern about potential corruption among Canada's often-impoverished natives.

Chief Ron Giesbrecht, who leads a community of some 82 people on Canada's west coast, was paid C$914,219 ($839,800) in remuneration and C$16,574 in expenses last year, according to a salary disclosure released by the federal government.

The giant pay package is the largest so far in a string of outsized incomes for First Nations chiefs from coast to coast revealed under a new law designed to boost transparency of aboriginal communities, which get the bulk of their income from the Canadian government.

"The reported salary of the Chief is very troubling and his community members deserve an explanation," Andrea Richer, a spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, said in an email.

"Our government expects First Nation band councils to use taxpayer dollars responsibly and for the benefit of all community members which is why we brought in the First Nation Transparency Act," she wrote.

As of July 29, Canada's more than 600 aboriginal communities are required to publish their audited financial statements and pay packages for chiefs and councillors on the Internet, a process that is already grabbing headlines and triggering outrage.

Canada spends around C$11 billion a year on its aboriginal population, but living conditions for many are poor, and some aboriginal reserves have high rates of poverty, addiction, joblessness and suicide.

Giesbrecht, who was elected to a three-year term that began in 2012 and took on an additional role as economic development officer in September 2013, could not immediately be reached for comment.   Continued...