In 2012 Saskatchewan’s Cote First Nation was awarded $130 million, $20,000 per band member, from the federal government as part of a land claim settlement – making the Yorkton/Kamsack-area First Nation one of the wealthiest in Canada.
$68 million was shelled out up front. It was gone by the end of March 2013: $50+ million on those per capita (band member) payments, the rest frittered away on programming, according to the unaudited statement posted on the First Nation’s website.
There is no posted audit for 2014 or 2015, the years in which the majority of the balance of the $60+ million in annual settlement payments would have been issued to the band.
In 2013-14, Cote First Nation Chief Norman Whitehawk was the highest paid chief in Saskatchewan, raking in over $350,000 in salary and benefits.
In March 2016 the Cote First Nation was one of three reserves that declared a State of Emergency.
Last week, Jayden Flett – who should receive a medal for her reporting on this (you’re going to want to watch the video) – revealed that as of today the Cote reserve is in dire straits, and nobody seems to know where all that money went.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Cote First Nation received a land claim settlement windfall, and then begged and battled with the Chief to tell them where the money went.
In 2008 Cote received an $80 million settlement on a separate land claim. Three years later band residents were outraged, claiming the cash was gone.
First Nations in the Yorkton region are no strangers to downright scum in their local leadership.
In 2011 the Chief of the adjacent Key First Nation, Clarence Papequash, was booted off a board (but not as Chief!) he sat on with Whitehawk, because he faced charges pertaining to a drug ring in the area.
When he was later sentenced after being convicted for trafficking morphine, Papequash – who in addition to being Chief, worked as a DRUG COUNSELLOR – said he “felt pressure to commit the crime because the community has a strong tradition of sharing”.
I can’t even write that with a straight face.
In 2012 Kamsack doctor Murray Davies had his methadone license removed, for wholesale prescribing opiates to members of Cote and Key First Nations, then once they were completely hooked, shuttling them into his own methadone program.
This after allegations surfaced Davies’ wife, a Kamsack Town Counsellor, and his receptionist, also a Kamsack Town Counsellor, were wielding their authority to financially benefit Davies’ methadone/medical clinic – whose clinic’s rent was being subsidized by the municipality.
One must credit APTN for their dogged reporting on Cote.
Jayden Flett wasn’t the first APTN reporter to be ran off the reserve in an attempt to get answers. In 2013 they experienced the same treatment (watch this video too).
At that time Chief Whitehawk had just done an interview in the ‘Indian Times’ (I can’t find it) stating that his office had built 150 brand new homes on the reserve, and renovated every single existing structure.
You tell me what you think of that assertion.
In light of all this, the news conference these area Chiefs held a few weeks ago to declare their State of Emergency was absolutely outrageous.
“We need help and we need it now,” said Chief Whitehawk. “Our communities are in a constant state of grieving.”
Are you fucking kidding me?
You need help? How about almost a quarter of a billion dollars in cash over the last eight years? Would that help?
“The federal and provincial governments have become the pushers of drugs as they fund narcotics and opioids under the government drug plan.”
Novel idea: how about CHIEF AND COUNCILLORS stop dealing drugs?
I can’t knock Senator Ted Quewezance too hard though. He’s been a tireless advocate of issues like these in Saskatchewan. Last fall he told a Treaty 4 Gathering that in the Kamsack region, drug addiction killed 100 First Nations individuals in 2015 alone. That’s two people per week.
And yeah, it would be helpful the Sunrise Health Region had put the brakes on the local doctor, who seemed to be using these reserves’ addicts as a cash cow, a hell of a lot earlier.
Here’s what needs to happen, right now.
The federal government needs to order an immediate forensic audit of the Cote First Nations’ books.
The provincial government needs to explain what the Sunrise Health Region has done to mitigate the damage both the U of S’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and Health Canada agree has been inflicted upon these reserves through that sketchy methadone clinic.
Apparently Greg Ottenbreit muttered some platitudes to Yorkton and Kamsack media about how he’d be happy to meet with these First Nations’ leaders again.
Not good enough Greg. You’ve been serving this region for what, eight years? (Updated – nope, I’m wrong, he’s Rural Health Minister, not the MLA. Whatever, either way it’s his job.) You’ve had enough meetings.
The RCMP needs to take Cote First Nation’s residents complaints – which they’ve received – seriously.
As for leadership within these reserves, Tribal Council and at the FSIN, I’m going to stop short of ranting about what they should do, because what do I know, right?
In fact, the only thing I do know is that it’s time for all leaders, including the above, to get their heads out of their asses and fix this.
Why should you care?
Well firstly, and most importantly, because innocent people are dying as a direct result of everything I’ve just detailed.
Secondly, because all levels of government – who again, we’re electing to manage this stuff – are failing, and they’re not being held accountable.
God, I feel sick posting this because I know what kind of backlash I’m going to get. But whatever. And yes, I appreciate this is a microcosm of a much bigger crisis – but neither of those reasons mean ANY of it should be ignored.
Updated: That didn’t take long. Here’s some of that backlash I was dreading.
Do me a favor if you’re thinking about doing the same – just don’t, okay? It’s such a waste of your time and energy. Because I just don’t care. I didn’t create this, I just wrote about it.
Updated again: based on what I can glean from the copious amount of hate and death threats I’m getting, the outrage seems to be focused on the way I referred to the reserve in the context of how iit was presented in the APTN report. And yeah, looking at it again, that wasn’t cool, so I changed it. I was originally referring to the houses on the video, but it’s not fair to label the entire area that way.
And one more update: comments closed. Apologies to all who wanted to engage in healthy discussion, but way too much hatred for me to wade through to get to you.
Final update (I promise): Need to clarify something – I am not a journalist. My paid job is in communications and marketing – on the side I’m just a writer who knows how to Google. This blog is a hobby, not a media outlet. I say this not because I don’t stand solidly behind what I write, but because I don’t want to take anything away from the real journalists, like Jayden Flett and her colleagues at APTN, who did all the legwork on all the stories linked to in this piece.