Sahtu beneficiaries are demanding that the RCMP investigate four regional organizations for “financial irregularities and wrongdoing” after a letter to police was shared with Northern media recently.
Raymond Yakeleya, Walter Blondin and Bobby Clement Jr., all beneficiaries of the 1993 Sahtu Dene and Metis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement, co-signed an Oct. 25 letter to Jamie Zettler, NWT RCMP commanding officer, to have the police force’s Forensic Investigation Unit probe the Sahtu Secretariat Inc., Tulita Land Corporation, Fort Norman Metis Land Corporation and the Norman Wells Land Corporation.
They allege that the Sahtu Secretariat Inc. and the land corporations do not have the authority to make financial investments or purchases on behalf of beneficiaries because they are only mandated to manage and implement the Sahtu Land Claim.
The RCMP said in a recent statement that they are not commenting on any potential investigation.
“To protect the privacy interests of any involved parties, we are unable to provide details on investigations or allegations of wrongdoing from the public in general,” stated Marie York-Condon, media spokesperson with the NWT RCMP. “If there is a public safety concern, or a requirement that we are seeking assistance from the public, we may provide information on an investigation. Generally speaking, unless there is a criminal charge, an investigation continues without disclosure to protect the integrity of an investigation.”
Charles McNeely, chair of the Sahtu Secretariat Inc. board of directors, declined comment in a Nov. 26 email to NNSL Media.
News North has also reached out to the Norman Wells Land Corporation and Tulita Land Corporation but has not received any responses as of this week.
Ram Head Outfitters purchase
The co-signers of the complaint letter make three main allegations. The first being that the Sahtu Land Corporations’ December 2017 purchase of the Ram Head Outfitters – now known as Canol Outfitters – for $5.8 million was done “illegally” and without member input.
It further alleges that beneficiaries have no access to information about who owns the hunting camp, the percentage of ownership or how the camp operates.
“We don’t know who the president is, who the managers are, how it was capitalized and if it is making any money,” Blondin said. “Since this is an investment, what is the return on our dollar? Those are all valid and serious questions.”
The letter accuses the Sahtu Secretariat Inc. – the body mandated to implement the land claim agreement – of having lent money to the land corporations to make the purchase, but the complainants say the secretariat is “not mandated to do so.”
“The reasoning that they told us was that this (Ram Head Outfitters’ owner) guy was going to sell to an outside interest,” Blondin said. “But the beneficiaries who paid for it knew nothing about the acquisition and didn’t authorize it.”
Tulita District Investment Corporation
The second issue involves the operations of the Tulita District Investment Corporation, an organization that the letter states was formed to “create wealth on behalf of its beneficiaries and shield district leaders from possible business conflict.”
The co-signatories allege that the corporation attained contracts from the GNWT for major infrastructure – namely the Norman Wells to Canyon Creek road and the Tulita health centre – and subcontracted the work to corporation leaders who head local businesses.
“Some of the leaders have directly benefitting themselves in conflict and, as far as we’re concerned, they have breached our trust in them because they were self-benefitting (through) contracts and using their positions to promote and benefit themselves,” Blondin said.
However, the beneficiaries’ land and financial corporations “received nothing,” alleges the letter.
Questions over the use of beneficiaries’ money
The letter also alleges that there has been a use of “slush funds” that have been cited in Northern media coverage, such as for trips to Yellowknife, dinners and other activities, but which have not been reported to members.
“Anything to do with beneficiaries’ monies must always go before beneficiaries for discussion, input, and approve,” the letter states.
Yakeleya has long complained about beneficiaries not getting the full representation and benefits owed to them. Last year, for example, as a candidate for the Tulita Land Corporation board of directors election, he alleged to News/North that the corporation is “rife with corruption and lacks transparency.”
Yakeleya and Blondin said they are tired of the inability to get answers to questions they have about financial transactions and how membership money is being handled.
“It is very painful for us because a lot of our relatives are directly involved in this and it is hard to take the bull of the horns to voice our concerns and problems when the whole system is not responding to us in the proper fashion,” Blondin said.