The son of ousted Shuswap Indian Band elected chief Paul Sam and councillor Alice Sam has responded to allegations that his family has benefited outrageously from band finances and band-owned businesses.
A recent audit shows that Paul and Alice Sam each earned annual salaries averaging $202,000.
Dean Martin, 61, their son, has served as CEO of Kinbasket Development Corporation (KDC) from its creation in 1996. The National Post reported “Dean Martin was paid $765,651 in 2010-11. The total fell to $431,549 in 2012-13. Figures for the latest fiscal year weren’t available.”
Martin contends that the salary figures cited for him are misleading and inaccurate. He spoke with Windspeaker on Nov. 24.
“I questioned the auditor on those numbers, too, and he was a little in the grey about how they added up or where they came from,” said Martin. “I know the $431,549 I was pretty in tune with, but the $765,651 in 2010-11 and the ‘$536,000 per annum,’ I’m not sure what they’re talking about,” Martin said.
“Those are their numbers. I make a base salary from KDC of $120,000 a year.”
Martin was unceremoniously suspended from his position after a Nov. 7 election that saw his parents voted out after more than 30 years in office.
“They came in with the RCMP, as if I was going to destroy things. They came in and verbally told me I was suspended pending an investigation,” Martin said. “They read me off a list of things they thought it was inappropriate for me to be doing and I said, ‘Okay. Have you read my contract?’”
Martin said the initial confrontation illustrates the misinformation the new council—new Chief Barb Cote, plus newly-elected councillors Tim Eugene and Rosalita Pascal—have been working under.
As economic development manager for the band, Martin has always worked under contract as a consultant. That means he has been subject to retention or dismissal at the discretion of the elected council.
Martin contends that the incoming councillors took steps to oust him without a thorough examination of the band’s financial operations.
Nor did the new council consider the often complicated terms under which non-treaty First Nations are required to operate a business, whether it is on-reserve, off-off-reserve or a combination of both, he insists.
Martin conceded that, to an outside observer, the interlocking web of companies within KDC looks unnecessarily complicated, with the potential for abuse as revenues are moved from one entity to another to satisfy regulations and requirements. That is a reality of Aboriginal business, and Ottawa keeps it that way, he said.
“We’ve had tons of lawyers looking at it,” he said. Each lawyer brings in his own agenda on how to protect the taxable entity, how to set up a company and how to protect each company.
KDC is a corporation with $75 million in assets, Martin explained. During the years, Shuswap paid off a number of big-ticket items, such as a housing mortgage, a KDC infrastructure loan and multiple consultation fees in the area of traditional territory rights.
One Species at Risk assessment alone cost $600,000, Martin said. Armed with the assessment, Shuswap was able to launch successful negotiations to obtain accommodations from Crown corporations and outside developers, he explained.
“It gave us the opportunity to go out and battle Corporate Canada - i.e., BC Hydro. Hydro wanted to do a big job in our traditional territory. They wanted to put in 130 kilometres of transmission line.”
Although it was not one of his specific duties as KDC CEO, Martin negotiated the accommodation with Hydro.
“We negotiated a deal with BC Hydro that had a substantial cash payment to the band and a substantial contract that we were able to garner from BC Hydro. That was one of four contracts we were able to get.”
According to Martin, the contracts, which also involved the highways ministry and Teck Resources, were worth about $15 million. And yes, he added, he did receive a substantial bonus, but not enough to bring him up to that $765,000 level.
The Nov. 7 band election followed a series of articles in the national media alleging that Paul and Alice Sam ran the band and its finances in a high-handed way, without consulting with members or, as Cote alleged, without holding council meetings.
Speaking to the CBC on election night, Cote, a councillor elected two years previously, said she had not been given any role in the band administration.
Cote did receive a salary of $57,000, but said until the recently enacted First Nations Transparency Act forced the band to undergo an audit, she had no idea that the Sams received salaries exceeding $200,000 per annum. She now questions nearly $2.5 million in expenses listed under the “other” category.
Martin refutes Cote’s allegation in the National Post that the band had not held a council meeting in eight years, save for one spontaneous ad hoc conference at the band office.
“We had so many council meetings,” said Martin. “We had so many band meetings: to get referendums for getting out of treaty, to getting First Nations land management in place, accepting development issues, changing bylaws… Our people, at the beginning, got so sick and tired of meetings that if you didn’t hold a bingo or have a dinner with it, you weren’t going to get any participation.”
Martin noted that in alleging millions of dollars in misappropriated funds, Cote referred to his family members as enjoying “Really nice big Harleys, big trucks. Just lots of trips.”
Partially true in his case, he conceded, but the reality is not so grandiose.
“They put it out on the news that I drive a big truck. It’s a 2008 Dodge,” he said.
He also has a Harley, he added.
“My son and I were looking at snowmobiles in Cranbrook, and there was a Harley-Davidson dealer in the same building,” Martin said. “I told them I couldn’t afford a bike, and they asked me if I wanted to buy a raffle ticket. I bought two $20 tickets. Then, on Boxing Day, I got a call telling me I had won a bike. That was in 2002.
“They say, ‘Look at his beautiful house!’ Yeah, I’ve got a mortgage at the Bank of Montreal. They called me this morning, wondering how things are.”
Martin said since the ouster of his parents from the Shuswap council and his own removal from KDC, the question of “wondering how things are” extends far beyond one man’s mortgage payments. At one stroke, he said, the election rejected and “exiled” a team that was managing a multi-million dollar business network as well as administering a First Nation.
Martin said while he remains under suspension, the new council has left KDC rudderless, and that will cause tremendous uncertainty for any individual or company looking to do business with Shuswap.
“All it can do is hurt us in the long run,” he said. “When you look at the newspapers, from the outside in, you start wondering if this is good investment.”
As for his own situation, Martin said he has a mortgage to pay and a family to support.
Asked what his options are in the event his dismissal becomes final, he observed, “I would have no alternative but to go legal.”