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Blood Tribe chapter seeks transparent and accountable band council governance

Council of Canadians organizers Brigette DePape and Diane Connors at the founding meeting of the Blood Tribe chapter, November 2015.

The Council of Canadians Blood Tribe chapter has raised concerns about the salaries and accountability of their band council.

The Globe and Mail now reports, “The chief of Alberta’s Blood Tribe, along with a dozen councillors, collectively received more than $2-million in compensation and travel expenses in the past fiscal year – a figure a handful of band members, including former political leaders, argue is inappropriate. Blood Tribe Chief Charles Weasel Head’s total remuneration and expenses amounted to $133,130 in the fiscal year, the lowest on council. Councillor Frank Black Plume’s total, after adding in travel expenses and the other forms of compensation, was $210,982, the highest on council.”

The article highlights, “Harley Frank, a former Blood Tribe chief, wants the band’s leaders to explain the expenses and be more transparent. ‘The salaries should match the governance structure’, Mr. Frank said, arguing it ‘doesn’t make sense’ that the politicians are paid more than $90,000 to govern an on-reserve population of about 7,000. ‘If you’re getting paid that kind of money, I expect tremendous results’, he said. ‘And then you have people who are living hand to mouth.'”

Blood Tribe chapter activist Lois Frank has previously commented, “The Blood Tribe’s chief and 12 council members make a combined salary of $1.2 million, even though the average income for members of the Blood Tribe is $16,389. That’s less than a tenth of what their leaders take for salary and expenses. While many band members don’t have enough gas money to go to a doctor’s appointment, the leadership is spending nearly $1 million on travel.”

The reserve is also dealing with a crisis over fentanyl, a painkiller that is up to 100 times more toxic than morphine.

Earlier this year, the Calgary Herald reported that the drug is linked to more than 20 deaths on the reserve. That article adds, “What is clear is the fentanyl crisis has brought profound pain to a vulnerable group of victims, and the effects may be felt for many years to come.” This summer, The Globe and Mail reported, “The southwestern community of Stand Off, on the Blood Tribe reserve (also known as Kainai Nation), has endured a disproportionate number of Alberta’s deaths. Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, a family physician from Blood Tribe, responded to her first fentanyl overdose in July, 2014.”

And Blood Tribe reserve members face systemic racism.

Chapter activist Kimberly Weasel Fat says, “Growing up on the reserve I experienced systemic racism and didn’t really understand what it was at the time, but knew something wasn’t fair. When I became a mother, that’s when I realized I wanted to do something to change the way things worked. When Idle No More burst onto the scene I really became aware. I became an organizer in Calgary, and I was exposed to and learned about different injustices, including the struggles around decolonization. Also, my Mom was a residential school survivor – my sister and I lost her to that system. When I became a mother it opened up my eyes. I want to be part of a change for my kids. I want them to have a better life and I don’t want them to have the struggles we had.”

The Blood Tribe is located approximately 200 kilometres south of Calgary. They are one of the three nations that comprise the Blackfoot Confederacy and speak a language of the Algonquin linguistic group. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow visited the Blood Reserve in June 2011 to learn more about efforts by Blood Tribe members to stop fracking on their territory. The Blood Tribe leadership, without prior consultation, had signed a deal with Calgary-based Bowood Energy and US-based Murphy Oil to lease almost half of the reserve’s territory for fracking.

The Blood Tribe chapter was formed in November 2015.