Former AFN chief 1 of 5 people being sued by Sipekne’katik Band

Former AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine, second from left in front, is named in a lawsuit filed by the Sipekne'katik Band/Photo by Stephen Brake

A former Assembly of First Nations National Chief is one of five people being sued by the Sipekne’katik Band in Nova Scotia over alleged misuse of funds in connection with the First Nation Centre of Balance and Resiliency Association.

Phil Fontaine is one of the centre’s five board of directors listed in the lawsuit. The other four people include:

  • Doug Reti, former RCMP superintendent and Director General of the National Aboriginal Policing Services
  • Kathleen Mahoney, a law professor at the University of Calgary and chief negotiator for the AFN during the Indian Residential Schools settlement agreement
  • Jerry F. Sack, former chief of the Sipekne’katik Band
  • Violet Paul, Sipekne’katik band member

The band’s lawsuit was filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on October 26.

“We’ve been requesting information from the board of directors of this company and they’ve never gotten back to us,” Alex McDonald, a Sipekne’katik band councillor, said in an interview Thursday.

Sipekne’katik Band Chief Michael Sack did not respond to Kukukwes.com’s request for comment about the lawsuit.

Fontaine, Reti and Mahoney declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached via email. Sack and Paul also did not respond to Kukukwes.com’s request for comment.

Kukukwes.com has also obtained a copy of a letter that the Sipekne’katik Band’s law firm, Pink Larkin, sent to RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, N.S. dated June 21, 2016. In it, the firm has asked the RCMP to investigate the financial dealings  of the First Nation Centre of Balance and Resiliency for possible fraud.

Sipekne’katik Band alleges breach of fiduciary duties

According to the statement of claim, the band alleges the centre and its board of directors did not spend all of the $450,000 it received from the federal government in 2012 on the band’s behalf to hold a commemorative event for former students of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.

In 2011, the Sipekne’katik Band submitted a proposal to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to host a three-day commemorative event for the survivors of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.

TRC commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild visited the site of the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Oct. 2011. The First Nation Centre of Balance and Resiliency Association proposed to place a monument at the former school's site/Photo by Maureen Googoo
TRC commissioner Chief Wilton Littlechild visited the site of the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Oct. 2011. The First Nation Centre of Balance and Resiliency Association proposed to place a monument at the former school’s site/Photo by Maureen Googoo

The proposal included plans to host a traditional feast for 1,500 participants, hold an interactive cultural showcase and create a monument called “The Circle of Healing” at the former site of the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School. The band had asked for $500,000 in order to hold the event.

According to the lawsuit, when the TRC approved the proposal in February 2012, the band registered the First Nation Centre for Balance and Resiliency Association as a society with the Nova Scotia Joint Registry of Stocks in order to receive the $450,000 in funding from the federal government.

However, the band alleges that the centre “departed from the Commemoration Event proposed by Sipekne’katik to the TRC” and held an event that “was much smaller and less costly.”

The band claims the event, which was held in September 2012 in Dartmouth, N.S., only drew approximately 100 participants, did not include a traditional feast or an interactive cultural showcase and did not produce a monument at the site of the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.

According to the band, the centre and its board of directors “breached their fiduciary duties to Sipekne’katik and the members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, and their duties as trustees of the trust over the Commemoration Funds by misusing, converting, or mismanaging those funds.”

Band councillor didn’t know about centre’s formation

Sipekne'katik Band Councillor Alex McDonald/Photo by Stephen Brake
Sipekne’katik Band Councillor Alex McDonald/Photo by Stephen Brake

According to Councillor McDonald, the First Nation Centre of Balance and Resiliency Association was formed while Jerry Sack was serving as Chief of Sipekne’katik.

McDonald, who has been serving with the Sipekne’katik Band Council since 2000, says he does not recall a band council resolution ever being passed in council chambers to form the centre or to have the centre control the money to plan the 2012 commemorative event.

“We didn’t know about it. We didn’t know the company was formed. We didn’t know the money was transferred to a separate company,” McDonald said.

McDonald says the main reason the band has filed the lawsuit is accountability.

“Somebody has to be accountable for the $500,000,” he said.

We’ve tried to get that information or an audit or some type of financial information about this $500,000 from the board of directors. They’ve refused to give it to us,” McDonald added.

In an email, a spokesperson for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada stated that in November 2011, the Sipekne’katik Band “recommended the funding of a commemoration project to be delivered by the First Nation Centre of Balance and Resiliency Association.”

When asked if INAC has received a financial audit from the centre, the spokesperson wrote, “the department continues to follow up and work with the recipient to ensure the reporting requirements set out in the contribution agreement are fulfilled.”


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About Maureen Googoo 171 Articles

Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne’katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news for 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, a post-graduate degree in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.