An image from the first day of the 2023 Gwich'in Annual Assembly. Photo: Gwich'in Tribal Council
Two Gwich’in presidents were permanently removed at this week’s annual assembly as delegates from some communities expressed concern about funding suspension and a forensic audit.
Ruby McDonald, of Fort McPherson’s Teetł’it Gwich’in, asked the Gwich’in Tribal Council if the community’s operational funding – suspended as a result of a forensic audit conducted by GTC – will be restored.
“I want to leave here … knowing that my Elders are going to say, ‘We’re OK now,'” McDonald said.
The audit raised issues of financial mismanagement among the four Designated Gwich’in Organizations, Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik has said. The audit’s aftermath is unfolding, and Kyikavichik says he is handing its results to RCMP.
McDonald was told 60 percent of this fiscal year’s payments to the Teetł’it Gwich’in are being held back. The Gwich’in Tribal Council says it is taking over a building in Fort McPherson where more than $400,000 is outstanding to the Bank of Montreal.
The Gwich’in Tribal Council voted on Thursday to permanently remove presidents of two DGOs, a process that began before the audit. Kyikavichik has said those suspensions are not directly connected to the audit but “some of the issues that have surfaced are interlinked.”
Abe Wilson of the Teetł’it Gwich’in Council was permanently removed by 20 votes to six. Mavis Clark of Tsiigehtchic’s Gwichya Gwich’in Council was removed by 21 votes to six, the meeting’s chair announced.
“That’s the difficult thing about accountability. It doesn’t come without any pain,” said Kyikavichik.
Presenting the audit’s findings on Thursday, he said it scrutinized the period from 2015 to 2021 – as far back as they could go, he said, spanning at least two terms of the councils involved. He said the audit was necessary because answers coming back from councils were not “sufficient internally.”
Kyikavichik said the audit’s findings showed transfers of “inappropriate payments” from some Gwich’in organizations to related parties, and instances of insufficient record-keeping. The GTC paid $1.2 million for the audit and related costs.
Asked by James Andre of the Gwichya Gwich’in about the next steps, Kyikavichik said the GTC had worked with accounting firm Deloitte to prepare a letter to the RCMP outlining transactions of concern. That is in the process of being submitted, he said.
“We’ll let the authorities deal with any charges that may or may not have to be laid. We leave that up to the authorities,” said the grand chief. In the meantime, he said, work could begin in improving policies and procedures.
Earlier in the meeting, a disagreement over updates to bylaws led five representatives from the Teetł’it Gwich’in Council to walk out. They returned after the lunch break.
“If our advice is not going to be heard, then we shouldn’t be here as a community,” Teetł’it Gwich’in representative Richard Nerysoo had said before his group walked out – continuing a difficult relationship between delegates that existed throughout the week.
“Under whose leadership and under whose direction did the delegates just have the authority, representing all the Gwich’in from Fort McPherson, to get up and walk away from the table?” Kyikavichik asked at the time.
Minutes after the delegates left the room, a bylaw motion was passed and the meeting moved on.