A dispute regarding financial information is heating up in the Kehewin Cree Nation.
Kehewin Cree Nation Members Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John say members deserve transparency and accountability from their elected leaders. Kehewin Cree Nation Chief Vernon Watchmaker says, “I will always conduct activities in an open and clear manner.”
Earlier this week Lakeland Connect was contacted by Members Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John. They say, “The
members of Kehewin Cree Nation have been provided a range of false and incomplete information from Chief Vernon Watchmaker regarding the financial situation at Kehewin prior to this most recent term of Council.”
“Prior to the 2018 election, then councillor Watchmaker alleged that Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John were involved in corrupt practices in the administration of monies received from the Top Gas settlement,” Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John said. “Following the election Chief Vernon Watchmaker hired the accounting firm of MNP LLP to investigate the claims he made during the course of the election by conducting a forensic audit.”
The investigation done by MNP in 2018-2019 confirmed that no financial discrepancies were found. It was stated by MNP during a band meeting, that in their professional opinion, there was no fraudulent activity by the previous leadership, Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John added.
“In spite of continued requests from membership for the forensic audit report to be released so they can know the results of this investigation,” Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John said. “Chief Watchmaker has refused to comply with these reasonable demands. The irony of a current leader attempting to bury a report meant to uncover financial wrongdoing of a past administration is not lost on members who have paid for Chief Watchmaker’s attempts to tar previous leaders.”
Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John says that Chief Watchmaker has refused to release the forensic report and has
made every effort to prevent this report from being released.
Most recently, Councillor Trevor John produced a BCR authorizing the release of the MNP report to any member of council who wanted it. Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John says, “MNP refused to provide the report on the instruction of Chief Vernon
Watchmaker. Moreover, Councillor Kevin Amahoose rescinded his signature after conversations with Chief Watchmaker. Chief Watchmaker appears to be prepared to do anything to avoid having this forensic audit reach the light of day.”
Remarkably, following the results of the forensic audit, at Chief Watchmaker’s behest, a lawsuit was filed by Kehewin Cree Nation against Brenda John-Vanguard, William John and councillor Trevor John.
“This lawsuit was entirely without merit, the lawsuit was discontinued by Kehewin Cree Nation at considerable expense incurred to the Nation,” Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John wrote in their statement to Lakeland Connect. “Nevertheless, the Kehewin Cree Nation spend band funds on legal fees to pursue this lawsuit, even though it was meritless. We repeatedly requested for a BCR
to be produced to verify that the lawsuit was properly commenced on the authority of the Kehewin Council. Chief Watchmaker refuses to produce any such BCR.”
Accordingly, it is apparent that considerable funds have been expended at the direction of Chief Watchmaker without any apparent legal authority and seemingly for the sole purpose of advancing his own political interests,” Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John added.
“Is this how Kehewin funds should be used?” Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John said.
Brenda John-Vanguard, William John and Councillor Trevor John are calling on Kehewin Cree Nation leadership to comply with their legal obligations and moral responsibilities to membership they say.
“Transparency, accountability and a pledge to represent the Nation’s interests, not one’s own should guide Chief and Council,” Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John said. “Release the forensic audit, divulge the costs of the audit and the irresponsible lawsuit and account for the legality of the lawsuit.”
Chief says group statement is misleading
Lakeland Connect reached out to Chief Vernon Watchmaker to ask about the allegations that were made.
“I agree Kehewin Cree Nation members deserve transparency and accountability from their elected leaders,” Chief Watchmaker told Lakeland Connect. “At no time have I provided false or incomplete information to Nation members regarding past Councils. However, their statement contains potentially misleading and incorrect information, which this Response intends to clarify.”
Chief Watchmaker says MNP LLP was properly retained by the Nation through a quorum of Chief and Council to engage in a forensic investigation into the uses of the Top Gas matter proceeds.
“MNP’s investigation revealed a number of financial discrepancies and evidence of serious financial mismanagement. As acknowledged
in the Statement, the full results of MNP’s forensic investigation were presented to Kehewin Band members at a band meeting April 30, 2019,” Chief Watchmaker said. “To my knowledge, there is no valid BCR from a quorum of Council at a duly convened meeting directing MNP to release a copy of the forensic report.”
Chief Watchmaker says the full forensic report contains confidential information about the Nation’s finances.
“It could be harmful to the Nation for this confidential information to be widely published,” Chief Watchmaker said. “MNP does not allow their confidential work to be published or released publicly.”
Chief Watchmaker says, “The statement from Brenda, Willie, and Trevor, contains misleading information about a lawsuit initiated by the Nation against Brenda John Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John.”
“One of the concerning matters identified in MNP’s forensic investigation was an unexplained payment of $50,000 to the Nation’s former legal counsel,” Chief Watchmaker said. “The Nation asked the lawyer to provide copies of the accounts that had been paid by the Nation.”
The law firm refused on the basis that the lawyer had been retained by Brenda John Vanguard, William John and Trevor John, personally.
“He stated the Nation was not his client, even though the legal accounts had been paid by the Nation,” Chief Watchmaker said. “Brenda John Vanguard, William John and Trevor John were repeatedly asked to provide copies of the legal accounts so they could be reviewed to determine whether the legal services should have been paid by the Nation. They would not agree to produce the accounts for review.”
Chief Watchmaker says, “The lawsuit was required in order to investigate why the Nation paid $50,000 for legal services to a lawyer who was not acting for the Nation. The lawsuit was fully authorized by a quorum of Chief and Council.”
Earlier this year, on January 12, 2021, at Chief and Council meeting, an “In-Camera session” occurred that was originally supposed to discuss other matters was not reviewed, but instead the lawsuit was brought up about Brenda Joly-Vanguard, Willie John, and Trevor John without knowledge from the Chief.
Chief Watchmaker says he was forced out of the in-camera session and Council attempted to pass a motion, to withdraw the case against Trevor John, Brenda Joly Van Guard and Willie John, it is recorded and three passed and one objected.
“The quorum to pass motions is four,” Chief Watchmaker said. “Councillor Trevor John took it upon himself to contact Kehewin’s Band lawyer and forced her to withdraw the lawsuit from the courts without a proper motion or letting the Chief know, he had to find out through other means. It is extremely unfortunate that Brenda John-Vanguard, William John, and Trevor John are attempting to mislead our Nation members for their own political purposes. I will continue to strive for transparency and accountability to Kehewin Cree Nation.”