Indigenous leaders in Fort Providence hit back at the community’s MLA in a dispute over accountability for funding provided to a local corporation.
In late May, Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge said he had encountered “secrecy” when he asked how $200,000 given annually by the NWT government to Deh Gah Bridge Ltd was being spent.
Deh Gah Bridge Ltd was set up a decade ago under a Community Opportunities and Involvement Agreement, when an initial plan to involve Fort Providence in the building and maintenance of the nearby Deh Cho Bridge collapsed.
The formation of the company allowed the territorial government to provide an annual grant to Fort Providence in lieu of the financial benefits that might have come from working on the bridge.
But Bonnetrouge said he had been unable to find out how the government grant was allocated and who got the money.
“I was asking, ‘Where is this? Who is on the board? When do you guys have meetings?’ Apparently, what they do is they send emails to each other. Because I was asking questions, it turned a lot of them off, against me,” he said in the legislature.
“Every time we are trying to ask something, we are being turned away. We are not being given straight-out answers or anything.
“I have asked the band councils if these boards are accountable to them and if they see reports, and they don’t seem to want to do that. They don’t want to hold anybody accountable for anything.”
Comments were ‘irresponsible’
The board of directors for Deh Gah Bridge Ltd comprises the elected representatives of the Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę First Nation and Fort Providence Métis Council.
The two groups issued a joint statement last week in response to their MLA’s questioning of the transparency with which Deh Gah Bridge Ltd’s funds are spent.
“We feel that MLA Bonnetrouge’s comments are irresponsible and may jeopardize upcoming negotiations with the Government of the Northwest Territories to discuss the Community Opportunities and Involvement Agreement,” they said.
Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge of the Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę said a committee answers to community members on the subject of the grant, and meetings happen on a quarterly basis.
The chief said an agreement governs how the $200,000 is disbursed. “It always should be allocated for education, social, culture, and economic development,” he said, adding an annual audit and report are required and can be reviewed at the band office.
“We’ve been encouraging a lot of our young people to go to post-secondary, go to college,” he said of the grant’s use to support education.
“We have a list of sometimes even up to 15 students we’re trying to help throughout the school year.”
Under the terms and conditions of the Community Opportunities and Involvement Agreement, the NWT government can suspend the grant if payments are used for a purpose that “is not, in good faith, for the benefit of the community or is contrary to the economic interests of the GNWT.”
Chief Bonnetrouge said the MLA’s comments suggesting a lack of accountability had the potential to cause unrest in the community.
“We’re trying to correct that kind of misinformation that’s there because of his questions,” he said following the issuing of last week’s joint statement.
“We were a bit caught off-guard, I guess, because between ourselves and the GNWT they were gonna do a review of the fund that we’re receiving.
“So, with this kind of information out there, that might jeopardize our negotiations, right?”
Ron Bonnetrouge did not respond to requests for comment.