A group calling themselves the Concerned Nisga’a Citizens protested outside the Nisga’a Lisims Government (NLG) building in Gitlaxt’aamiks on June 28 to demand answers to leaked government documents.
The move follows a government investigation and gag order against former IT manager Andre Cardinal, who in May released sensitive information on NLG’s spending on lawyers and consultants, along with a letter detailing a culture among senior staff of nepotism, excess spending and harassment of members.
None of Cardinal’s accusations have been quantified or proven in court.
“The information that Andre had put up, everybody’s seen it. We know we can’t say how much money was spent or misused… but he has opened something, now we want answers,” says Stephen Nyce, a spokesperson for the Concerned Nisga’a Citizens.
“Our people have been told nothing or [know] what’s going on, other than they’re investigating themselves… We don’t believe for a second that [Cardinal] was a disgruntled employee, we know that he spoke from his heart,” says Nyce.
In a communique to Nisga’a members on June 25, the NLG said the “individual” responsible is no longer employed with the government. “We have come to a resolution that is satisfactory to both parties,” the unsigned document reads, reminding members a court injunction prevents the individual from releasing further confidential documents in a manner they called “malicious, hurtful and without regard for truth.”
At the rally stood a dozen members with signs that read “The lawyers and consultants must go!”, “Forensic audit accountability, time for change” and “NLG corruption must end! Nepotism must stop now!”
Nyce says there is a growing frustration regarding the privacy of finances and lack of consultation in major decisions, but he says many are afraid of publicly voicing their concerns in fear of repercussions — especially those who rely on social assistance from NLG.
“We’re not here to disrupt anything or disrespect anybody, we’re doing what every other Canadian citizen is entitled to when they don’t like what their government is doing and that’s to rally and make our voices heard because we have a lot of people that can’t speak for themselves,” he says.
“Some of our poverty is pretty high in the [Nass] Valley, there are no jobs… and it seems to me, they don’t want to hear us, they don’t want to listen to us. That time is coming on, we are tired of the 19 years that have gone on in this building yet we have seen nothing.”
NLG president Eva Clayton addressed the protesters from the entrance of the government building. Flanked by about 20 of her elected colleagues and members of Wilp Si’ayuuḵhl Nisg̱a’a, she shot down any accusation of wrongdoing by the government. She said the nation is engaged in 18 court challenges, which may account for the high legal expenditures, and that the Nisga’a Settlement Trust cannot be accessed without following “rules, regulations and procedures that govern our every move when it comes to taking public funds that belong to the Nisga’a Nation.
The Terrace Standard received a follow-up email from the Nisga’a Lisism Government to clarify that the 18 court challenges referenced have been throughout the past 19 years and that the nation has won each challenge.
“One of the main pieces of legislation is the Nisga’a Fiscal Financial Administration Act [and] as a government, we are required by that legislation and other pieces of legislation to be accountable and to be transparent,” said Clayton.
Clayton finished by saying the NLG will investigate the serious allegations made by Cardinal, and urged members to approach anyone standing behind her with any concerns.
The protesters did not appear satisfied with her statement.
“She’s trying to make it sound like they’re all good but no they’re not, why do you think that [Cardinal] came to the table and put it all out there?… He was tired of what they’re doing to our people, that’s why he made that report,” says one protester who asked to remain anonymous.
Another protester says Clayton “passed the buck again” as none of their concerns were properly addressed. “We’re talking to deaf ears… they’re laughing at our faces.”
Concerned Nisga’a Citizens say they will continue to speak out and are planning future events.
In a previous version of this article, the Terrace Standard reported that the nation was engaged in 18 court challenges but has been corrected they have each been won in the past 19 years. The article also stated that Eva Clayton was accompanied by employees but was with her elected colleagues and members of Wilp Si’ayuuḵhl Nisg̱a’a instead.