A statement of claim filed this spring alleges that, in 2020, leaders of Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation misappropriated $15,000 that was supposed to be used for suicide prevention.
The statement was filed in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench on April 26, 2022, by lawyer Sean Carrie on behalf of Renee Crookedneck, a band member of Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation (MLCN).
The allegations in the statement have yet to be tested in court. On Tuesday, the Court of Queen’s Bench confirmed no statement of defence had been filed on behalf of the defendants.
MLCN is located roughly 300 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. Its registered population is about 1,300 people, with a majority of them living on reserve.
The statement of claim says Leslie Crookedneck, Garth Crookedneck and Gabe Alexan each took $5,000 from MLCN without legal authority or just reasoning in July 2020. The money was allegedly taken from the band without its knowledge or consent.
General ledger documents shared with CBC News show that Leslie Crookedneck, Garth Crookedneck and Gabe Alexan were each given a cheque worth $5,000 on June 9, 2020, from the MLCN “prevention activities” fund.
Leslie Crookedneck served as MLCN’s chief for more than 15 years and was voted out of office in October 2021. Garth Crookedneck was a band councillor for more than two years and was voted out of office in October 2021.
Gabe Alexan was a band councillor for more than 10 years and was re-elected in October 2021.
Leslie Crookedneck and Gabe Alexan did not respond to numerous requests for comment by deadline. CBC was unable to contact Garth Crookedneck.
Renee Crookedneck, who filed the statement of claim, was working with the Band Member Alliance and Advocacy Association of Canada (BMAAAC), a non-profit organization that works with band members seeking accountability from their leaders through the courts.
BMAAAC founder Rob Louie told CBC News the band’s ledger detailing the cheques issued to Leslie, Garth and Gabe make him confident they got that money.
“Now the issue will turn on whether or not they can justify taking $5,000 each, because that’s part of their fiduciary duty, is being able to justify such a transaction,” Louie said.
“I think they’ll be hard pressed to do that because there is no Band Council Resolution, there is no minutes and there is even no explanation for the taking of $5,000.”
Louie said the other transactions in the band’s ledger are justified. He said the three $5,000 payments to Leslie, Garth and Gabe had no justification.
The statement of claim filed this spring says Renee wants the councillors to reimburse the band, with interest, for the money. Renee is also seeking “punitive and or exemplary damages” against each of the defendants.
“We are looking to help the plaintiff Renee Crookedneck recoup [money for legal fees she spent] and set a legal precedent, where chief and council cannot arbitrarily appropriate money to themselves out of any Ministikwan Lake budget,” Louie said.
“This isn’t free money.”
After Louie spoke with CBC News for this story, allegations BMAAAC failed to provide services to people who paid them money surfaced. At least one of those people was refunded. A formal complaint was filed with the B.C. Law Society pertaining to BMAAAC’s actions in that case.
Accountability required: Canadian Taxpayers Federation
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) said the situation in Ministikwan shows a clear need for accountability from band offices, chiefs and councils.
“It is fundamentally important that people know what their chief and council is doing, or what their mayor and council is doing, where their money is going,” said Kris Simms, the CTF’s Alberta director.
Simms said organizations like Louie’s — those working to get accountability from chiefs and councils — are important.
Their work, she said, empowers band members who may otherwise feel helpless in calling for accountability.
“If you don’t have accountability, if you don’t have audits, you don’t have checks and balances, you don’t have access to information and you have a big pile of money somewhere? It can go places it’s not supposed to go,” Simms said.