Chief will stay on
Deninu Ku'e's Balsillie rejects elders' call to resign

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Fort Resolution (Feb 14/00) - Deninu Ku'e Chief Don Balsillie has dismissed a call for his resignation as a group of elders looking for money from the BHP revenue sharing agreement.

Last week, 21 Fort Resolution elders signed a petition calling for Balsillie's resignation. The elders had accused the chief of withholding funds from the BHP revenue sharing agreement, failing to live up to treaty obligations and nepotism in hiring. They also wanted an emergency meeting of the band council to review their concerns.

Balsillie and council met Feb. 9, and afterward, the chief called the concerns unfounded and said they come from a small group of disgruntled residents.

"What's happening is, a couple people who've been on my case for the past number of years have been instigating these elders and saying, 'Yeah you've got a right to this money; you should be mad at that chief,' and getting these people riled up," he said.

At last Wednesday's meeting, the chief had a chance to meet with the elders.

"I was talking with some of the elders who had signed that petition and they said, 'We didn't sign it because we wanted to get rid of you, we signed it because we wanted to get money from BHP,'" Balsillie said.

Any decisions on how the benefits money would be spent were addressed at a public meeting, he said.

"We held a meeting a number of weeks ago and gave them an overview of how much money we got.

"That's what we're elected to do -- chief in council has the authority to determine how these monies are going to be best expended or invested on behalf of its First Nation members," he said. "At that public meeting, what I stated was, 'If any of you elders who want that money, then stand up and tell me what you want it for, because if we disperse this money, it's going to go to everyone -- it's not just going to the elders.'"

"No one stood up -- no one said anything," Balsillie said.

During that meeting, council settled on a number of projects and programs where the money would be best spent, he said.

"The First Nation Chief in Council decided to give some money to the childcare initiatives program for the kids," he said. "They needed a building and were short on funds so we offered to help them out. We also talked about some money to be set aside for a scholarship fund for some of our youth going to university etc," he said.

As well, Balsillie said the community plans a joint venture with a southern company to start up the lumber mill that was closed last year.

"The government is not going to be putting any more money into our lumber mill here; they basically said it's not feasible, so that put about 16-20 people out of work," he said. "People don't want to leave here; they've got families, houses, truck payments, etcetera.

"These young people, who have families and kids and who are trying to make a living for themselves would like to see this money going to something that will put them to work," he added.

One elder had complained that the chief had not fulfilled treaty obligations in supplying nets and shells. Balsillie said the band makes those limited funds go as far as they can.

"All we get is a dollar per member, so that comes out $709 a year," he said. "We try to do our best with that money. We do these buffalo hunts and caribou hunts every year and that wasn't done before."

He further said that the charges he only hires friends and relatives were untrue, and in fact, he said some of the people who signed the petition have relatives working with the band and council.

"Some of their children are working here; some of their grandchildren are working here," he assured.

Balsillie and the other Treaty 8 chiefs begin land claim negotiations next week, but he said the band will hold a public sometime in March to update the community.

"I'm going to have another meeting with my elders in the next little while and I plan to update them on this and a few other things that are going on," he said.