The Chief Jim Koe building in Inuvik, which houses the Gwich'in Tribal Council and Gwich'in Development Corporation. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Designated Gwich’in organizations could face an RCMP investigation after a forensic audit said by Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik to show financial mismanagement.
Last month, Kyikavichik shared that audit’s findings in a presentation posted to social media – a post that triggered a heated online discussion of some of the findings and allegations.
Issues the Gwich’in Tribal Council’s audit raised include “inappropriate payments” from some Gwich’in organizations to related parties, a lack of revenue-counting among some associated corporations, and insufficient record-keeping, Kyikavichik said.
“Entire periods of time did not appear to have records for some councils,” he told Cabin Radio.
“Bylaws, rules, and regulations were apparently not followed … bonuses to presidents and staff, and then we also had some inappropriate use of credit cards.”
Kyikavichik said accounting firm Deloitte’s report suggested all four Gwich’in Councils – Ehdiitat, Gwichya, Nihtat, and Teetł’it – had “some level” of issues between 2015 and 2021. He placed the cost of the audit at $1 million, and stated on Facebook that a further $200,000 was spent to “track down payments made to individuals in direct conflicts of interest to Gwich’in Council presidents or staff.”
According to Kyikavichik, the Gwich’in Tribal Council has an annual budget of more than $30 million and more than $200 million in assets.
“We are in the process of transferring the detailed report over to the RCMP,” he said, declining to speculate on whether he believes criminal charges are likely.
The presentation was originally meant for this year’s Gwich’in Annual General Assembly, which has now been postponed due to the NWT’s ongoing wildfire crisis.
A new date for that assembly will be decided in the coming weeks, Kyikavichik said. The event, normally held at the end of August or in early September, is likely to be held between October and February. The role of host community passes between the four Gwich’in communities – Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic, Aklavik and Inuvik.
The audit reports sums of up to $721,000 spent by some organizations lacked appropriate council approval or oversight.
Credit card bills of up to $86,000 appear to have been related to items like vehicle detailing, miscellaneous travel expenses, or other costs with “little to no backup,” Kyikavichik said.
“We also had some sale of vehicles by presidents and staff with no independent indication of council approval for these transactions,” he added.
More than $150,000 in anomalous payments were made to presidents, directors and staff, the audit concluded. In some cases, Kyikavichik said, the recipient approved their own bonus checks.
“Another finding is transfer of cash between accounts,” Kyikavichik said. Transfers ranging from $12,000 to $3.2 million lacked appropriate supporting documents.
Kyikavichik says this is not the first time financial mismanagement has been raised.
“There have always been concerns about the financial resources that have been deployed in our organization. Some of the hiring practices, or lack thereof, have been a real concern,” the grand chief said.
Gwich’in members, he said, “would like to see us have a level of accountability going back to over 3,500 participants.”
In the past two years, Kyikavichik said, two directors have been suspended by the Gwich’in Tribal Council for code of conduct violations. Those directors were the presidents of the Gwichya and Teetł’it Gwich’in councils, he said.
Asked if their suspensions were linked to findings in the audit, Kyikavichik responded: “No, but some of the issues that have surfaced are interlinked with some of the communication issues that have surfaced with these two individuals.”
Due to the audit, the two councils have had their funding suspended, he said.
“I believe we must remain accountable to those that have put us in these offices,” said Kyikavichik, asserting his belief that new presidents and directors recently elected “share this expectation of transparency and accountability for overall transactions, no matter how small they may seem.”