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Princely-paid B.C. chief says he's regained support of most First Nation members

Kwikwetlem First Nation member Sylvia Myers speaks in a video posted to YouTube on Aug. 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, YouTube - Kwikwetlem First Nation

COQUITLAM, B.C. – Members of a tiny Metro Vancouver-area First Nation went public with messages of support for their chief on Thursday, a week after he was lambasted for quietly accepting an $800,000 bonus connected with successful development contracts.

The massive bonus was paid to Kwikwetlem Chief Ron Giesbrecht in his role as the band’s economic development officer, and was revealed last week when financial statements were published online.

“(The chief and council) have done everything they can to bring us forward in life,” said Sylvia Myers in a statement uploaded on YouTube. “For our grandchildren, our children and our great grandchildren, they are looking to the future.”

Lyle Cunningham said the band has come together as a team.

“We need to move forward,” he said.

The positive words contrast the angry tone sounded by band members last Friday, when at least one person said he was outraged to learn of the bonus because many people in the community are suffering.

The First Nation released the video statements and a written statement from Giesbrecht on Thursday, in which the chief stated his position for the first time.

He said that while four of his band members asked him to resign, he believes he has the majority support of his First Nation, based on personal conversations with almost all 57 voting members.

The bonus was paid under an agreed 10-per-cent bonus structure for development contracts, his band has stated.

“I am one of the lowest paid chiefs in the country,” Giesbrecht said in the statement, adding he was asked to take on the economic position and did so because it held important opportunities for his nation.

“I did not expect our nation to be as successful as it was, and it means that Kwikwetlem First Nation is in a better position than it has ever been before.”

Giesbrecht added that thanks to the economic activity, the band has improved housing, support for youth and elders and health programs.

“Now more people than ever are moving back,” he said.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada reports the Kwikwetlem band has a registered population of 37, although the statement said there are actually 82 members.

The chief did not respond to a request for an interview with The Canadian Press, although he did provide interviews to several other media outlets.

Giesbrecht is paid a $4,800 annual salary as chief and another $80,000 per year as economic development officer, according to his statement. It also said the bonus structure prompting the controversy was removed on April 1.

But the statement, also posted to the band’s website, does not indicate how he will handle the bonus money.

But he did say the First Nation is setting up a separate economic development company, which will have an independent board of directors.

“It is important to separate the business from the politics and day-to-day running of our nation,” he said.

A previously scheduled band meeting on Oct. 4 will include discussions about improving governance and procedures, the statement said.

Documents published under a federal financial-transparency law show $914,219 in remunerations and $16,574 in expenses were paid to Giesbrecht for the financial year ending March 31, 2014.

The First Nations Financial Transparency Act was passed in 2013, and stipulates that audited financial statements must be published online within 120 days of the end of the financial year.