A problem that has been going on for some time continues to bother me. Everyone in Eeyou Istchee has been talking about accountability and transparency but has anyone been doing anything about it?
It’s a big question but one that we Crees need to answer. We say that foreign systems have been imposed upon us and this is what has led to many problems. I do not think we can really say that anymore. There are Crees who have taken business administration, accounting and other management skills. We have had some of these entities in place for 30 years. We must be used to them by now but the problems keep showing up.
I remember the interview with then-Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come that we published in the first issue of the Nation. At one point he talked about the various entities Crees now had, everything from the Cree School Board to CreeCo.
“It was good when we started,” Coon Come said. “We did not have all these companies before. The only problem we had was the threat of megaprojects. But through the years we’ve created entities like the Trappers’ Association, CreeCo and all its subsidiaries, the Cree School Board, Cree Health Board. They’re all tabling reports and we don’t have time to review them and question the way they manage and invest our money. I think it’s time to change the way we govern ourselves.”
It was a problem that was recognized then. In the CreeCo financial statements that we all see at the GCCEI/CRA annual General Assemblies everything seems fine. Fine, that is, until you read the way they are presented. There is one line, for instance, that reads “Investment Value.” This means how much money was invested originally, not the current value of the investment.
For example, if you bought 10,000 shares of a stock such as Nortel Networks Corp. when it was running $80 or more, the “Investment Value” would be $800,000. Currently the shares are only worth about $3.50 so the “Current Value” would be $35,000. In other words, a loss of $764,500. As a shareholder, however, by just looking at the “Investment Value” you would think everything was alright.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing illegal in this type of accounting practice under the General Accounting Practices Act if in the footnotes you include the current value of your investment.
Another slight problem brought to my attention was the insurance fund. It was set up by all the Cree communities. This great idea was that Crees were paying far too much to insure band housing and infrastructure. A fund was created and each band contributed to it for a number of years and it became self financing. That was great until the Board of Compensation opened it up to CreeCo and its subsidiaries. A number of claims by Cree businesses materialized. Crees no longer see this fund as a line item in the financial statements anymore. Does this mean that Cree homes and Band infrastructure are no longer protected? Was the fund drained by Cree businesses? At this point I and many others just don’t know but it is a troubling thought.
In the same interview with Coon Come he said, “The problem is that CreeCo does its reports and tables them at the annual assembly, but they aren’t passed around. I guarantee you they’ll get stuck in the Chief’s office. Ask your chief for a copy and see if he’ll give it to you. It was probably filed somewhere….
“Our system is not working the way it should. We’ve expanded. We’ve created monsters and we’d better cut some heads off those monsters. If we don’t, we’re going to run into these types of problems you’re talking about.”
It has been 11 years later and some of those problems seem to have surfaced. The question is what’s going to be done about it? Perhaps it is time that the CRA or the Grand Council create an independent Auditor General so we can all understand what, where and how Cree money is being used and how much we really have left.