Gwich'in Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik, right, in Fort McPherson for the Gwich'in Tribal Council Annual Assembly on August 18, 2022. Tony Devlin/GTC
The 2023 Gwich’in General Assembly began in Inuvik’s Midnight Sun Complex on Tuesday with heated exchanges involving community representatives and the grand chief.
Before the meeting even reached its printed agenda, Ruby McDonald – of Fort McPherson’s Teetł’it Gwich’in Council – questioned the Gwich’in Tribal Council’s board about the absence of Teetł’it Gwich’in president Abe Wilson.
Wilson is one of two directors suspended by the GTC’s board in the past two years for code of conduct violations, Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik said earlier in the summer. The other suspended director is Mavis Clark, interim president of Tsiigehtchic’s Gwichya Gwich’in Council.
A forensic audit to be discussed later at this week’s assembly has raised issues that Kyikavichik says include “inappropriate payments” from some of the Designated Gwich’in Organizations – the four community councils – to related parties, and insufficient record-keeping.
Kyikavichik posted a summary of the audit, conducted by accounting firm Deloitte, to Facebook in August. He said he had handed over the audit’s findings to RCMP.
McDonald initially refused to move forward with the meeting without Wilson present.
“I would not allow myself to go forward if my president is not here,” she said three minutes into the opening day’s proceedings.
“I need my president to be here. I don’t see the Gwichya Gwich’in’s president, so we need to have those presidents available to start the assembly.”
Kyikavichik, noting the presidents’ suspensions, said DGOs chose their own delegates with the exception of the Gwichya Gwich’in, where the GTC had stepped in and appointed representatives because of “some governance issues.”
“The fact that your current president is not at the table, that was a decision that was made by the Teetł’it Gwich’in Council. We respect that,” he said, a characterization that McDonald disputed.
Eventually, a motion to appoint former Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief George Mackenzie and Gerry Kisoun as co-chairs of the assembly – moving the meeting forward – passed with 19 votes in favour and four votes from the Teetł’it Gwich’in against.
That set the tone for what could be an adversarial three-day meeting, with discussion of the forensic audit still to come.
Tuesday also witnessed debate over how delegates are chosen for the annual assembly, who gets to vote and who doesn’t.
Much of the concern was raised by the Teetł’it Gwich’in, represented by Richard Nerysoo, who cast the GTC as overreaching and exercising too great a jurisdiction over DGOs.
Kyikavichik, responding, stressed the role the GTC plays as the financial powerhouse supporting the DGOs, and said decisions to suspend officials were a last resort after years of attempts to resolve issues.
A more settled afternoon session heard a series of reports led by Kyikavichik, including commitments to pursue funding for post-secondary education and early childhood care while seeking Elder and youth representation in ongoing negotiations with Canada.
On Wednesday, Kyikavichik will present the forensic audit report for discussion. An update on the GTC’s trauma healing lodge is also expected.