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Crisis deepens in Squamish Nation as community calls for action

Chief Ian Campbell said government is continuing to take steps in wake of damning report



North Vancouver RCMP is looking further into the allegations of the misappropriation of funds at Squamish Nation as the crisis deepens within the First Nations community.

Last month police entered into "discussions" with First Nations leaders about the allegations that $1.5 million is unaccounted for. It is an official investigation.

"Our Economic Crime Unit has entered into an investigation," confirmed North Vancouver media relations officer Cpl. Richard De Jong. "No charges laid at this time."

The news comes as the nation struggles to deal with the fallout from October's independent legal investigation which found no records for $1.5 million in missing emergency community funds, withdrawn by Councillor Krisandra Jacobs and band manager Glen Newman.

"Oh God, I am so happy about that now that they've started it," said band member Clarissa Antone of the RCMP investigation.

The news that the RCMP is taking more interest in these allegations comes after Sunday's marathon, six-hour community meeting, which saw a re-vote on three specific motions, all calling on chiefs' council to take more action in the wake of the damning internal report.

Sunday's meeting only served to fan the flames of discord and division in the community, and Chief Ian Campbell said it's critical to get the crisis under control. How that will be done still remains to be seen.

"There's a lot of really exciting things that the nation is involved in, a lot of exciting opportunities that we must stabilize our government and not remain in a state of crisis," said Campbell. "We have to move forward to correct this issue and demonstrate that we're continuing to take proper steps."

The independent investigation found no "direct evidence" that the funds were kept by those involved, but alleged the funds were used to develop political support from members.

Council stripped Jacobs and Newman of their duties in October, but they remain in their elected official positions.

Members of the community, however, will not rest.

At Sunday's emotional meeting, which community members say turned violent when a chair was thrown and a paddle was broken, symbolizing the broken community trust, three motions were all passed by the more than 200 members in attendance, namely:

• 218 members approved the removal of Councillor Krisandra Jacobs and band manager Glen Newman from office, 12 opposed;

• 152 members approved calls for a forensic audit, 42 opposed;

• 185 members approved the removal of the finance head at the Nation, three opposed.

This is the second time the community has passed these motions.

"Now it's up to council," said band member Beverly Brown. "And it's not a recommendation. We voted on it. This is done. And if council can't do it, then it would just be a non-confidence (vote)..."

Campbell said that council, as an elected body, has to take into consideration the collective interests of the whole nation, not just those at the meeting.

"It has to be understood that those directives are not legally binding," said the chief. "Two hundred members out of 4,000 people doesn't constitute a legally binding directive. Nonetheless, it is taken very seriously that motions that are passed by membership are directives, that we must then do an analysis to measure any risk analysis, such as legal and financial risks that can be associated (with it). We can't just implement directives without looking at our fiduciary obligations. Legally we're bound to protect the interests of the nation."

Campbell knows the community wants assurance that chiefs and council are taking this seriously.

"It's made them very leery of the entire operations," he admitted, adding council took action as soon as questions arose at the band office. First, it commissioned the investigation and then took concrete steps in the wake of the report.

"We (the council) need to provide the vision that we've corrected the financial controls immediately. And now we need to look at what other tools are available to us.

"Based on the legal report, is that enough to dismiss someone from their elected position? That's the analysis that we have to undertake now. Usually, if there's any criminal conviction, or anything that is a serious nature that would question a person's ability, that has to be looked at very seriously. So our next steps would be around: what does that analysis entail?"

In the meantime, the close-knit community struggles to come to terms with the divisions as it continues to search for answers.

"It's hard to feel hopeful under the circumstances," said Brown. "It makes the community feel as though they have no power."

Added Antone: "The wrongdoing has to stop happening. Everybody needs to stop pulling the wool over each other's eyes. Let everything come out in the open and let's deal with it and heal as band members."