By Jorge Barrera and Shaneen Robinson
APTN National News
Manitoba Keeewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief David Harper is about to face a non-confidence vote on his leadership after rejecting a request from his organization’s member chiefs that he step aside until the completion of a forensic audit.
Harper told APTN National News Thursday he wasn’t going to step aside.
“I am not going to take the suspension,” said Harper.
Harper, who is facing serious allegations of financial mismanagement, said he paid back the money he used from MKO on personal expenses and was confident a review of the books would absolve him of an improprieties.
“According to our numbers…I don’t owe nothing,” said Harper. “At the end of the day I am confident that there was not any wrongdoing.”
MKO chiefs passed a resolution during a meeting in Norway House Wednesday asking Harper to accept a voluntarily suspension until Winnipeg-based firm Lazer Grant completed an audit of all the organization’s books or face a non-confidence vote during MKO’s general assembly in September.
Before the meeting ended, Harper had told chiefs he would inform MKO’s executive of his decision by Monday. Harper, however, went to several media outlets Thursday to say he wasn’t going to step aside.
The move upset some MKO-member chiefs who had agreed not to discuss the matter publicly until Harper made a final decision.
“There is a lack of respect for the chiefs and a lack of honour on his part to keep his word and let us know on Monday,” said one of the MKO chiefs who is seeking Harper’s ouster, but requested anonymity until he obtained more information on the situation. “I am kind of surprised he would do it. It shows his arrogance and lack of respect for the leadership of MKO.”
The chief said MKO’s executive chiefs council would now be meeting to consider taking “further action” against Harper.
Another MKO-member chief said he was “disappointed” in Harper.
“The grand chief is going against the chiefs-in-assembly’s resolution,” said the chief. “If he considered the office of the grand chief sacred, the most honourable thing to do was to adhere to the resolution that he go on a suspension.”
The resolution to suspend Harper was moved by Mathias Colomb Cree Nation Chief Arlen Dumas and seconded by God’s Lake First Nation Gilbert Andrews.
“In the event that the grand chief voluntarily agrees to a suspension of duties, the MKO executive council shall appoint an acting grand chief; and in the event that the grand chief does not voluntarily agree to a suspension of duties, the MKO chiefs in assembly shall proceed to consider a motion of non-confidence in the MKO grand chief,” said the resolution, which was adopted by MKO chiefs with only two opposed and one abstention.
Dumas wrote a blistering letter to Harper and MKO chiefs this week saying he no longer had confidence in the grand chief.
“I have lost faith in Grand Chief Harper’s leadership to abide by MKO policies, manage MKO funds properly, address chiefs’ concerns or act on our behalf,” wrote Dumas, whose community is owed nearly $500,000 by MKO. “The political embarrassment that Grand Chief Harper caused the MKO First Nations, chiefs and citizens by his poor management, lack of leadership, financial mismanagement and his continued refusal to account for his actions publicly is disgraceful.”
Dumas said in the letter he would pull his community from MKO if Harper did not resign.
The letter was released publicly by Indigenous academic and activist Pam Palmater who posted it on her Facebook page.
Harper described the criticism levelled against him as “personal attacks” from the same “group of chiefs.” The embattled grand chief said he received many calls of support throughout the day.
“The same group of chiefs have been trying to do a vote of non-confidence since last year and this time they are about to succeed,” said Harper.
He said he is going to spend the next few weeks clearing his name, going item by item to show he did not misuse MKO’s money.
Harper said he wanted to investigate who was leaking information, which he said was a “breach of confidentiality” and needed to be stopped.
“It’s a breach of confidentiality and we’re looking into it now to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
MKO chiefs also passed a resolution during the Norway House meeting, which was held Tuesday and Wednesday, clipping Harper’s wings. The chiefs removed Harper from having oversight over MKO’s administration.
The chiefs also amended MKO’s constitution to include new grounds for removing a grand chief. Now a grand chief can be removed for abuse of authority, corruption and gross misconduct. Previously, a grand chief could only be removed if he was charged with an indictable offense.
The resolution to amend the constitution was moved by Andrews and seconded by Manto Sipi Cree Nation Chief Michael Yellowback.
Documents obtained by APTN National News show MKO was warned by an outside auditor that the federal Aboriginal Affairs department could put the organization into co-management or third –party management if it didn’t get its spending under control, especially around travel and consultants.
MKO’s accumulated deficit for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2013, hit $976, 025. MKO also accumulated an operating deficit of $609,058 by March 31, 2013, which was a 71 per cent increase over the previous year’s operating deficit of $356,108.
MKO, which received a denial of opinion from an auditor because it lacked proper accounting of its spending, was also warned to include a paper trail around its credit card use.
Documents show that Harper used the organization’s money to pay for 3 guitars, car repairs, flights for his girlfriend and for members of a U.S.-based gospel music group to attend a jamboree, according to Visa statements and invoices obtained by APTN National News.
Harper said the guitars were a Christmas gift to someone and that the car repairs and flights for his girlfriend came out of his pay.
Harper has also been accused of obstructing the forensic audit, which has been unfolding since last year. He denied obstructing the audit.