Justice B.A. Barrington-Foote has ruled that Onion Lake Cree Nation’s basic financial records must be disclosed within 30 days.
Charmaine Stick, an Onion Lake Cree Nation Member, launched the court application last year with help from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“In our natural laws, our Creators laws, transparency and accountability have always been first and foremost. It’s how our leadership, our ancestors lead our people in a good, peaceful way,” says Stick.
She goes on to say, “you have to be accountable and transparent to your people. There is also the Creator, there is also Mother Earth, there is also the four-legged. You have to be transparent and accountable to everyone around you; land, water, air and the people. We’ve lost that accountability and transparency within our leadership. It’s about time our leadership gained that back.”
She adds that without the transparency, corruption and mismanagement of funds will continue. When Stick initially asked for this information she says she did face backlash.
“I was being called a drug dealer, an alcoholic, a pill popper, anything you can think of, it happened to me but it’s to the point now where it really doesn’t affect me anymore because I’ve done what I have to do.”
This isn’t the first time Stick has petitioned the government for information. A few years ago she went on a hunger strike that lasted for 13 days. However, nothing came of it. She says she was dismissed by the leaders but continued to fight and then partnered with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Todd MacKay, the Prairie Director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says, “when we read about Charmaine, we saw somebody that we wanted to help. Anybody who can’t get answers from their local leader about what’s happening with their communities money, we want to do our best to help those folks out.”
He says this is “a huge step forward for the Onion Lake Cree Nation, well over 90% of other First Nations routinely publish this information. Onion Lake is one of the few who have refused to comply with the law and publish this information on the internet.”
MacKay adds, “so what this really means is that grass-root band members can find out how much the Chief and council are being paid and what’s going on with their money. That means they can be a part of the decisions.”
As to why Onion Lake Cree Nation hasn’t released their financial records in the past, MacKay says it’s a question he has asked himself.
“I think it’s common sense that if you’re spending the communities money, you have to be open and honest and transparent about whats going on with that money.”
The ruling was handed down last week, and couldn’t have been more timely according to Stick.
“What better time to get a ruling like this then the 150th commemoration of Canada. Canada’s celebrating their birthday this year, well you know what, First Nations are also celebrating this year. We’re celebrating with this court victory because it means a lot to us.”
Stick says the effects of this ruling will extend beyond the Onion Lake area.
“This is not only a court victory for Onion Lake but it’s also a court victory for all the other First Nations out there who are going through what we’re going through, who are asking what we’re asking.”
Since the court ruling, Stick says other First Nations have been reaching out to her asking for help in starting their own applications. She extends a thank you to all who supported her through the court case.