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The Indian Act's Corrupt

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May 29, 2006

The Indian Act's Corrupt

Resisting the roots of corruption in Tobique First Nations

by Kim Petersen

tobiqueriver_web.jpg
Settler culture changed the traditional Maliseet way of life. photo: Provincial Archives of New Brunswick
"All the money is gone here," says Allen Squalis. "We are, at a very conservative estimate, $10 million in the hole."

Squalis is part of the Tobique First Nation, a Maliseet community, in Western New Brunswick. According to Squalis, there's no good reason for the Tobique First Nation to be in debt: the Tobique High Stakes Casino – a community-owned operation - has grossed over $15 million over the past 3 years.

The casino was built to generate funds which would alleviate poverty thus improving social conditions in the community. Instead, Squalis and his supporters say, casino revenues are being squandered on a select few.

In 1999, then Auditor General Denis Desautels warned that the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs risked compounding existing poverty and despair on Native reserves by failing to account for how money is being spent.

According to Squalis, for 13 years casino revenues have been unaccounted for, and calling for accountability leads nowhere.

In desperation, Squalis and 10 other Maliseet community members took over the Tobique casino on June 7, 2005. The group occupied the casino for almost two weeks to bring attention to the rampant corruption they said was squandering the community's resources.

Chief Paul, Councilor Gerald Bear, and Councilor Stone Bear filed a statement of claim with the Court of Queen's Bench alleging that the 11 individuals involved in the casino takeover had taken funds from the casino and damaged the casino's video lottery terminals.

The 11 community members defend their actions as protecting the casino revenues, which belong to the community. They are concerned that managers have failed to distribute net profits among community members.

"I also have dedicated a year and a half of my life to get accountability in our community so my son will not have to go through what we did," says Squalis. He is concerned by the poverty and desperation that afflicts the Tobique First Nation. In the last year, there have been three suicides and at least five suicide attempts in the Maliseet community which consists of an on-reserve population of about 1,300 members.

The 2005 "occupation" of the casino is not the first. Just before Easter in 2004, a group of single mothers took action in a similar fashion to get a share of casino revenues. In November 2000, outraged elders shut down the casino. The outrage was triggered when the chief and councilors made a decision to award themselves salaries of $1,000 a week, after informing elders on the reserve that their monthly support cheques would cease.

Much of the responsibility for the community's finances - and its corruption – lies with Chief Paul, says Squalis. Cited as part of the evidence are two cheques totaling $2200 from the casino coffers, payable to the Chief's niece, Gillian Paul.

Chief Paul is the elected chief of Tobique First Nation, as recognized under the Indian Act. According to Squalis, however, the Indian Act deprives First Nations of their traditional ways of selecting representatives. "I do believe [that] if we selected a Chief in a traditional way that things most likely would be different. ... These non-aboriginal elections and officials are just an arm of the government and the chief and council are the puppets. Favoritism, nepotism and jealousy to name a few fun things is what it brings to our communities," observes Squalis.

"It only divides us--which is the main purpose isn't it?"

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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