Feds hold Nakoda band’s trust funds as council dispute drags on

Two deposed councillors are suing Carry the Kettle First Nation in Federal Court

Entry sign at Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation in Saskatchewan. Photo: Facebook

A Federal judge has found the chief and three councillors of Carry the Kettle (CTK) First Nation guilty of contempt of court in a lawsuit that is causing political strife and financial hardship.

Justice Paul Favel issued a decision on Jan. 15 as part of an application for a judicial review filed by deposed councillors Terrina Bellegarde and Joellen Haywahe.

Court documents obtained by APTN News show the women filed separate applications seeking to overturn their December 2022 removals from office.

In the meantime, they were replaced in a February 2023 byelection, which led Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to put a hold on the band’s “trust and source revenue assets,” Chief Scott Eashappie explained in a series of statements.

“Each year we draw down 1.2 million for our band needs, elders bills, funerals, pow-wow, sports & rec, administration staff, pasture, band membership support,” Eashappie said.

“… I was informed Carry the Kettle will not be able to cover any of these costs at this time due to 2 removed Councillors consistently threatening Indigenous Services Canada with contempt of court.”

Scott Eashappie is chief of Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation in Saskatchewan. Photo: Facebook

The federal department confirmed its hands are tied pending legal action connected to the “internal governance dispute.”

“Canada is bound by and committed to respect the Federal Court findings and decisions regarding the governance of the First Nation, and the requirements necessary to authorize decisions on behalf of the First Nation,” department spokeswoman Suzanna Su said in an email to APTN.

“This has affected the First Nation’s ability to meet the requirements to access their band trust moneys.”

The funding agreement between the Nakoda nation, about 100 km east of Regina and the department has not been halted or reduced, Su added.

“No programs or services provided by Indigenous Services Canada have been impacted,” she said.

Federal Court Judge Paul Favel found the band council in contempt of court in a recent ruling. Photo: Federal Court

The nation elects its chief and council using a custom election code instead of the federal Indian Act. This means disputes must be resolved using processes outlined in the code, Su said in the email.

“Communities can also elect to have a matter heard and resolved through the courts.”

The councillors were removed for alleged misconduct under the Cega-Kin Nakoda Oyate Custom Election Act, said the chief in a statement. But instead of appealing the decision under the code, he said, they ran “to the white man’s court.”

That’s why he didn’t follow the Federal Court’s rulings, Eashappie added.

“Today Ctk is in court fighting to uphold our act and no judge will understand this because they have oaths to Canada, just like leadership have oaths to its own Custom Election Act to the membership,” he said in a statement.

Decision to remove

Eashappie, who could not be reached for comment, noted the decision to remove Bellegarde and Haywahe was for, among other things, “requesting that Carry the Kettle First Nation be put under 3rd party management under Indigenous Services Canada.”

But Bellegarde and Haywahe have said they were questioning the band’s financials and options like third-party management – where ISC appoints an accounting firm to oversee operations.

The judge found Eashappie and councillors Shawn Spencer, Tamara Thomson and Lucy Musqua guilty of contempt of court for disobeying the order to stay the deposed councillors’ removal and subsequent byelection pending the outcome of the judicial review applications, court documents say. It is not a criminal offence.

Eashappie said the community had to dip into its Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) account to cover some of the shortfall.

“Today TLE had a meeting and I have put forward the cost of $96,000.00 to cover your (utility) bills and was passed this evening, special thanks to our TLE Board for helping the nation when in need,” he said in another statement.

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