Gwich'in investigation continues

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

FORT McPHERSON (Sep 12/97) - The investigation into possible fraudulent activity at the Gwich'in Tribal Council is continuing, despite reports to the contrary.

RCMP Cpl. Jean Cormier told the Drum in late July that police would not pursue the matter unless delegates at the Gwich'in annual assembly invited them to through a motion.

"If (the assembly) says 'Yes, we feel we have been victimized,' we proceed with the investigation," Cormier said then. "But if they vote 'No' we don't investigate."

The assembly did not pass such a motion, however.

"The board agreed it should take time to review the issues to determine how we should approach the allegations," said Gwich'in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo.

It appeared the investigation had been stopped. But Cormier told the Drum this week it is wrong to assume it has been halted. "We would have been happy to see a motion, but (its absence) doesn't dictate out investigation," he said.

Cormier said the investigation was a priority for RCMP, and "we'll review the file and take it from there."

Nerysoo criticized reports from the Drum that the investigation had been halted at the behest of the assembly. "How can we determine whether or not and investigation goes with the RCMP?" said Nerysoo. "What authority do we have that doesn't exist with any other (organization) in Canada?"

For now, the Gwich'in Tribal Council is reviewing whether to hold an internal audit of its own to answer questions raised by the initial investigation, which showed "financial misappropriations" from 1992 to 1997 within the organization. While Cormier was on holidays, the Drum contacted RCMP headquarters in Ottawa to learn more about commercial crime investigations. Speaking not for attribution, a member there said that commercial crime investigations are long and tedious affairs, and are often not pursued unless there is adequate support from those who initially filed the complaint, in this case a Fort McPherson Gwich'in beneficiary.

"It depends on the investigation," said the man. "The RCMP have to work with people up there, and if nobody complains, or is willing to testify, you can seize all the (financial) books you want. If nobody co-operates in court, you're not going to get all that far."

He said in most cases involving financial misappropriations, several steps are involved, including preliminary interviews of complainants, then a financial review of books, then further interviews. The process can take years, he said.

So far, Cormier and the RCMP in Yellowknife have completed the first stage -- interview of the Fort McPherson man who made the complaint, and with tribal council executives.