Governance issue leads to firings

by Derek Cornet

Leadership at Buffalo River Dene Nation (BRDN) is in question after a recent general meeting led to the firing of several employees and the suspension of at least one councillor.

On April 7, Kelly Montgrand – who until recently served as band manager – was appointed to lead the First Nation after close to 150 members voted to dissolve the current chief and council. The members were upset about recent criminal charges filed against chief Lance Byhette and councillor Eileen Morrison, and wanted the opportunity to elect new leaders. Montgrand said Byhette handed in a letter of resignation prior to April 7 and accepted a compensation package offered to him.

“I was then left to contact the right people and get the election process started,” Montgrand said.

A week later, on April 14, Montgrand requested the voters’ list but instead was called into council chambers and terminated.

“Somehow, three councillors and the chief have it in their heads they’re still in power,” Montgrand said.

Before leaving, Montgrand shut down the band office. Among those who left was payroll clerk Nicole Sylvestre who is now unemployed as a result.

“Anyone who walked out was considered fired,” she said. “But, the chief did resign. He received his payout. The day we left the office was the day the (compensation) cheque cleared the bank.”

While she was hesitant to release the dollar figure, Sylvestre said the cheque was for a considerable amount. She also feels the current chief and council are illegitimate and is also calling for an election.

Meanwhile, band councillor Melissa Desjarlais said she was suspended recently for handing over computer equipment to the RCMP. While the police have since returned the machines, Desjarlais said one of her portfolios was finance and she’s afraid funds could go unaccounted for since the band manager and payroll clerk were dismissed.

“From what I’ve seen, BRDN is not in a good place financially,” she said.

Desjarlais feels her suspension is invalid and also said an election needs to be held. She said leadership is currently dividing people and the people’s voice needs to be heard.

According to Valerie Hache of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, BRDN selects its leadership in accordance with the community’s established process rather than by the election rules contained in the Indian Act.

“The department will continue to monitor the situation and may consider the appointment of a third party manager if the delivery of essential programs and services is jeopardized,” she said.

As of press time, requests for an interview remained unanswered by Byhette and other band councillors.

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Comments
One Response to “Governance issue leads to firings”
  1. Carla says:

    As a Band member this is a big concern, in all of the 30 plus years I have lived in Buffalo River I cannot say that I had experience anything like this it hurts knowing that the people will suffer if the band goes third party..I care what happens in the community I have family and grandhchildren we as adults are suppose to be role models and we are the ones teaching the young generation..
    Thanks

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