Wednesday , 22 September 2021
Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations new Grand Chief, Okimaw Vernon Watchmaker, who has been chief of Kehewin Cree Nation since 2018. Image submitted.

Kehewin Cree Nation member demands transparency and accountability from Chief Watchmaker

A dispute regarding financial information is still continuing in the Kehewin Cree Nation.

Kehewin Cree Nation Member, Trevor John, says the statement provided by Chief Watchmaker to Lakeland Connect contains a number of
inaccurate and incomplete responses to the issues we have raised.

Most importantly, John says Chief Watchmaker stated “Kehewin Cree Nation members deserve transparency and accountability from their leaders” and further that he would “Continue to strive for transparency and accountability.”

Something John says the Chief has failed to do.

“Chief Watchmaker, I am challenging you to match your fine words and rhetoric with proof of your sincerity to the members of our Nation,” John told Lakeland Connect in a statement with regards to Chief Watchmaker response to our first article. “Very simply: release the cost of the forensic audit; release the cost of the lawsuit that you initiated; provide proof of the legality of the lawsuit by presenting the BCR authorizing the lawsuit and above all else, release the forensic audit for members to view. I am not asking that it be released to all members of the public, I am asking that it be released to our Nation members. That is what transparency demands.”

The suggestion that “MNP does not allow their confidential work to be published or released publicly” is ridiculous, John says.

“The Kehewin Cree Nation paid substantial sums of money for this report and we have every right to release it to our members. Why would the Nation pay for a forensic audit and then not be allowed to see it and not have knowledge of the cost?” John told Lakeland Connect.

John says the excuse that “It could be harmful to the Nation for this confidential information to be widely published” is again misleading. Referring to the Chiefs statement to the media.

“We’re not asking for it to be publicly sent out to third parties,” John said. “We are asking for it to be released to members. There is no confidential information that band members cannot see. This is the members’ money – they have every right to know what happened to it.”

John says, “Moreover, if Chief Watchmaker truly believes there is confidential information that could harm our Nation, then why did Chief Watchmaker release part of the report to Lakeland Connect? It is clear he is prepared to only provide bits and pieces that serve his own
interests, as opposed to being fully transparent with Nation members.”

John’s main question is, “If MNP LLP was properly retained by the Nation through a quorum of Chief and Council to engage in a forensic investigation, why is Vernon Watchmaker refusing to release the forensic audit to the band members of Kehewin Cree Nation?”

John says contrary to Chief Watchmaker’s statement, there is indeed a BCR instructing MNP to release the forensic audit and I have a
copy of it.

“Chief Watchmaker intervened to prevent MNP from releasing the report in accordance with this BCR,” John said. “If any members wish to see a copy of this BCR, do not hesitate to contact me and I will gladly provide it. That is what transparency means.”

Band members requested a copy of the forensic audit report during the April 30, 2019 band meeting. John says Chief Watchmaker told the members they could pick up a copy from the band office.

“As of today, not one copy was provided to the band members requesting this document,” John said. “In fact, Chief Watchmaker provided part of it to Lakeland Connect – that’s more than he’s given to all the band members.”

When Lakeland Connected contacted Chief Watchmaker he was fully cooperative with answering our questions concerning the matter with legal council advice.

“Vernon Watchmaker continues to provide inaccurate information about the Lawsuit he started with band funds Chief Watchmaker incorrectly alleges that I took it upon myself to contact Kehewin Band lawyer and forced her to withdraw the lawsuit from the courts without a proper motion or letting the Chief know,” Councillor Trevor John said. “This is entirely inaccurate and the band’s records will show this is false.”

A regular Chief and Council meeting was held on February 2, 2021. According to Robert’s Rules of Order an item for discussion can be added to the agenda before the meeting.

“The agenda is just a suggested outline or structure for the meeting. At no time was the band lawyer forced to withdraw the lawsuit – the band lawyer was in attendance at the meeting where this was discussed,” John said. “A quorum of Council voted to discontinue the lawsuit.”

An in-camera session was called during this meeting asking Chief Watchmaker and Councillor Trevor John to remove themselves from the meeting.

“Chief Watchmaker was not forced out; he was asked to leave politely, as is required by our fiduciary duties and basic conflict of interest rules,” John said. “This meeting was recorded and the band’s lawyer was in attendance to witness the motion to discontinue lawsuit. This was passed with no objections.”

John says, “This is precisely why the band’s lawyer went ahead and discontinued the lawsuit after the meeting. Would the band’s lawyer really
discontinue a whole lawsuit on the basis of an invalid motion that Chief Watchmaker did not know about? This is not even plausible.”

John says that Chief Watchmaker continues to burry the truth.

“Chief Watchmaker, if you continue to believe that your version of events is true, then release the recording of the meeting for band members to see,” John said. “Again, this is what transparency would mean.”

Legal Fees

Councillor Trevor John  says Chief Watchmaker again makes the unfounded and inaccurate claim that Brenda John- Vanguard, Willie John and himself improperly used band funds for legal fees to MLT Aikins LLP.

“This was the very subject of the lawsuit that was discontinued because, once the facts were clearly presented, it was apparent that there was no merit to the lawsuit,” Councillor Trevor John told Lakeland Connect. “A letter was forwarded to Kehewin band lawyer from MLT Aikins LLP on June 20, 2019 stating one of the band lawyers’ clients had concerns that Kehewin Cree Nation had paid for the contempt proceedings brought in Federal Court. Basically, Chief Watchmaker alleged that Brenda John-Vanguard, Willie John, and Trevor John paid MLT Aikins LLP $50,000 for personal legal fees.”

John says, however, MLT Aikins LLP confirmed in writing that this was not the case because MLT Aikins was acting for the band at the relevant time.

“A full accounting and payment summary of what took place over the relevant period was provided,” John said. “None of these related to
the contempt proceedings and it is obvious to anyone that reviews the relevant correspondence that Chief Watchmaker’s allegations are false.”

John says for any band member that wishes to review the relevant records, please don’t hesitate to contact him.

“This is the same information that was provided to Council when the decision was made to discontinue the lawsuit,” Councillor Trevor John said. “Overall, Chief Watchmaker has used an assertion of confidentiality to make wild claims of financial discrepancies and evidence of serious financial mismanagement without providing a shred of proof. There is a very easy way to substantiate your accusations Chief Watchmaker, release the forensic audit; release the cost of the audit, release the cost of the lawsuit, and produce the BCR for the lawsuit. It is time to live up to your words of transparency and accountability.”

Lakeland Connect has contracted Chief Watchmaker for a response to Councillor Trevor John. We are waiting to hear back from his office.

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About Arthur C. Green

Arthur C. Green is from Whitbourne Newfoundland and graduated from the CNA Journalism Program. Arthur also studied Business Marketing and Political Science at Memorial University in Essex England and St. John's Newfoundland. Green has worked for such organizations as CBC, CBC Radio, NTV, Saltwire, Great West Media, CKLB Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner!