An internal governance dispute is now impacting people in Carry the Kettle First Nation directly.
A statement published by Chief Scott Eashappie on July 12 said the community, located about 100 kilometres east of Regina, lost control of its trust and source revenue assets from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).
“I am aware of the financial constraints and negative impacts these decisions will cause on our band members, both urban and on-reserve,” his statement read.
“Chief and Council will continue to advocate for other sources of revenue to help offset some of these annual costs taken on by Carry the Kettle Band on behalf of our members.”
The statement said areas like sports and recreation, funeral assistance, elder’s utility bills and the 2023 powwow were put on hold or cancelled. Eashappie’s statement said areas like health, education and Treaty Land Entitlement would still be funded.
Eashappie said ISC was taking control of the money due to a legal dispute involving two councillors who were previously removed from their positions.
Terinna Bellegarde and Joellen Haywahe were removed from office last year and Carry The Kettle organized a byelection to fill their vacancies.
They challenged their removal through the courts, which in January 2023 ruled that their removal and the planned byelection was to be stayed.
But the band continued ahead with the byelection in February 2023 — effectively replacing Bellegarde and Haywahe on council — and was found to be in contempt of court for doing so.
On Thursday in an emailed statement to CBC News, Indigenous Services Canada confirmed the band’s internal governance dispute was impacting its ability to meet the requirements to access its money.
“It is important to note that funding related to the funding agreement between Carry the Kettle First Nation and Indigenous Services Canada has not been halted or reduced,” the ISC statement said.
“No programs or services provided by Indigenous Services Canada have been impacted.”
In a correspondence between ISC and Carry the Kettle reviewed by CBC News, the department said it was unable to process band council resolutions it received from Carry the Kettle, as those documents included signatures by people who were not duly elected members of council.
Eashappie declined multiple requests for comment about this story.
Impacts felt immediately
Eashappie’s announcement caught people in the community by surprise.
Rena Ryder’s granddaughter Stacey Hotomani said elders like her grandmother, who is living on a fixed income, weren’t told they’d be affected by this before Eashappie published his statement.
Hotomani said she was shocked that funding to help elders like Ryder was cut on such short notice, because elders in Carry The Kettle are always helped first.
“Power bills out here run from $900 to $1,500 per month. [Her] pension is $2,000 a month,” Hotomani told CBC News on behalf of Ryder.
“That has to carry them until the next pension day, which is 28 to 30 days away. When they’re paying for a power bill now, they’re only going to have limited cash to spend on their groceries and their needs, which is sad.”
She said the existing arrangement, where the First Nation paid those bills, was put in place long ago and has never been disrupted until this recent development.
Hotomani said she and her aunties will try to help Ryder cover bills and expenses when they can, because they don’t want the 89-year-old residential school survivor to have to worry.
Hotomani said she wants the chief and council to reinstate the payments to elders. She said she texted Eashappie to get answers, but hadn’t gotten any responses.
“We’re just hoping something good comes out in the end. We’re hoping the chief and council can sit together and plan something for these elders,” Hotomani said.
An election dispute
In 2018, Carry the Kettle gained sovereignty for its own elections through a Custom Election Act. This means the Indian Act election rules set out by ISC no longer apply there.
The First Nation said its custom election act aligns with the traditional customs and election process of Nakoda values and governance.
While matters are still being settled in court — the band is slated to appear in court this week to face the contempt of court charges — Haywahe, one of the two councillors that Carry the Kettle had replaced in the byelection, told CBC News she continues to work as a councillor.
She said the removal of the pair of councillors was backlash for them digging into band financials and finding funds she believes were unaccounted for.
Eashappie didn’t answer an interview request seeking clarity on the councillors’ allegations.
Haywahe said she has hope things will be fixed with the overall court case.
“I have faith that because we’re federal Crown wards that the federal court here will address this properly. It is a breach,” she said.
“I’m pretty sure that our band members will get the answers that they need, because that transparency and accountability is missing in our band and we really had no choice but to do this.”
Haywahe said she suggested mediation between the two councillors and the band, and waited two months for the process to begin, but it never happened.
Funding cuts ‘preventable’
Bellegarde, the other removed council member, said she too was disappointed things weren’t worked out internally before ISC took funds out of band control.
“The funding cuts were definitely preventable. We could’ve come to the table and resolved everything,” she told CBC News on Thursday.
“It’s too bad it happened that way. Mediation was there, it’s still there, but there has been no unanimous agreement to come to the table.”
Bellgarde said she’s never seen anything like this matter and it’s leaving the community in disarray.
“We’re in such a tough spot because self-determination, if we have enough self determination, self government can happen,” she says.
“If culture is so important to us, we can make it happen — but we’re so dependent on money.”
Independent appeal body needed: treaty governance prof
The matter in Carry the Kettle highlights the need for an independent appeal body designed to look at electoral disputes, according to Kathy Walker, an assistant professor in political studies at the University of Saskatchewan.
“They could have a fair and impartial hearing that is more in keeping with actual Indigenous traditional governance, or based on the customs of the community that has the dispute,” Walker, who teaches courses on Indigenous governance.
Eashappie’s post on social media on July 12 indicated Bellegarde and Haywahe were trying to seek third-party management for the band. Both councillors told CBC they did not directly seek out third-party management on behalf of the band, but asked ISC what their options were and whether or not that included third-party management.
ISC’s statement to CBC News said the band was not currently under third-party management.
Walker said third-party management, which involves a band handing complete financial management to an outside party while it works to address mismanagement-related problems, is a rare move and would be “a big thing.”
“It’s a pretty drastic measure, to my understanding it’s not exercised lightly or very often today,” Walker said.
She said she hopes this experience will be a learning experience for self-governing First Nations, or those who wish to implement their own custom elections acts in the future.
“What’s really the underlying problem behind a dispute like that is the Indian Act and the measures we’re taking to get away from it,” she said.
“Will there be bumps in the road to get away from it? Definitely. But we need to keep moving in that direction.”