It was an eventful final day of the annual general assembly (AGA) of the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC), as two former presidents of Designated Gwich’in Organizations (DGOs) were banned from serving for life and one delegation temporarily walked out.
The three-day AGA wrapped up on Thursday, during a day of events that also included the results of a forensic audit into the DGOs.
On Thursday morning, there was a discussion of revisions to the GTC’s bylaws. Most of the changes, Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik said, were grammatical, but one change would grant GTC subsidiaries compensation if they were subject to legal action that wasn’t related to negligence.
But Richard Nerysoo, a Teetlit Gwich’in delegate and former N.W.T. premier, felt his delegation wasn’t being heard.
“We can’t be put in a position where somehow our advice is seen as something that’s not important or relevant to what we’re trying to do,” he said.
“If we’re not going to be listened to, our advice is not going to be heard, then we shouldn’t be here as a community. And we’re gonna go back to Fort McPherson, and we’re gonna talk to them, and we’re gonna get their advice as to where we go.”
Nerysoo, along with all but one Teetlit Gwich’in delegate, then left the meeting. The delegation returned about 30 minutes later.
The walk-out was preceded by a tense discussion about a delegate not having a package related to the bylaw changes. Youth delegate Rayna Vittrekwa said she didn’t have the package because the office was closed due to suspensions, and she had only been asked to serve as a delegate the week before the assembly.
Kyikavichik said it was an example of the DGOs not taking appropriate responsibility.
Two DGO presidents banned for life
Later that same day, the assembly voted to remove and impose a lifetime ban on two DGO presidents.
Abe Wilson was president of the Teetlit Gwich’in Council and Mavis Clark was president of the Gwichya Gwich’in Council. Both had previously been suspended.
Wilson and Clark were found to have violated the GTC’s code of conduct, although the details of these violations were not made public.
Financial mismanagement revealed in forensic audit
Also on the final day, Grand Chief Kyikavichik presented the results of a forensic audit of the DGOs.
The audit turned up expenses as high as $721,000 that were not approved by Council. Funds of up to $3.2 million were transferred between accounts or corporations without proper oversight. And in some cases, people were signing or approving cheques to themselves.
The full audit is estimated to cost about $1.2 million. Deloitte is now completing a second phase of the audit, and some aspects of the report are being handed over to the RCMP for investigation.
Kyikavichik told CKLB on Friday he couldn’t say how long these behaviours had been going on, or how many were engaging in them.
Despite the week’s events, Kyikavichik says the assembly was productive. “I believe our story focused on the fact that we are financially strong, and we are working to address the mental health and wellness issues that we’re facing, not only in our Gwich’in communities, but also across the North and with our almost 2,000 participants that live outside of our communities,” he said.
The week ended with a commemoration of several youth who had completed their first hunt. “So with that, there’s a good reminder that the reason we are all here is for future generations and the continuation of our language and our culture,” said Kyikavichik. “And on that note, it ended on a highlight.”