APTN National News
Peters First Nation’s three-member band council were allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars over a two-year period to operate a band with 12 homes on 131 hectares and little infrastructure.
The money was much more than what band council claimed to Indigenous Affairs from 2013 to 2015 according to the First Nations Transparency Act.
But the money just didn’t go to council.
It was also allocated to members who are known to vote for council every two years. A close look at the finances over those years indicate that over 90 per cent of all expenditures to band members went to those who voted for council.
This happened while the British Columbia reserve was in a bitter membership battle that continues to this day on a nation that receives around $300,000 in annual funding from Indigenous Affairs.
But it doesn’t end there.
Documents show questionable payments not only to the children of council but one of their mothers received tens of thousands in social assistance and allegedly didn’t qualify, while one councillor had over 10 jobs, an APTN National News investigation has uncovered.
A recent audit uncovered that the band kept little paper trail of supporting documents for social assistance, and council members were signing cheques over to themselves, all of which the auditor said opened the band to the potential for “inappropriate payments” during the fiscal year of 2014/2015.
Indigenous Affairs (INAC) approved the audit without question.
More so, Indigenous Affairs funded the National Child Benefit program that year without any supporting documents, asking the band to submit details of how the money would be spent later.
That was just one of the many programs led by Victoria Peters, a longtime councillor who is also – to name a few – the band manager, bookkeeper, income assistance administrator, community health representative, on the membership committee, accounts payable/receivable and social worker.
Chief Norma Webb has refused to comment directly on any part of APTN’s investigation supported by confidential ledgers, audits, band council resolutions, internal emails, INAC documents and interviews with band members spanning more than three months.
APTN has also been following two court cases involving Peters band council where band members are suing the council for breaching its fiduciary duty by allegedly misusing band money, not keeping records and appointing themselves to all the jobs.
The band council, at the same time, is trying to enforce an injunction to have “confidential” documents returned to the office, alleging former employee Frances Genaille and her son, Andrew stole them and, in part, are using the documents against council to seek INAC to investigate the band council.
“Andrew has disclosed confidential information regarding the Peters social assistance program that could only have been obtained from Peters’ files,” wrote the band council recently in its petition for an injunction. “INAC has requested an immediate review of Peters social assistance program as a result.”
Andrew Genaille wrote to INAC March 20 alleging former councillor Leanne Peters’ mother, Donna Peters, had been receiving social assistance since 2011 and didn’t qualify.
“Donna Peters owns her own home,” he wrote. “Donna Peters husband, Clifford Peters, already receives disability. Clifford Peters also receives a paycheque from Peters First Nations. Donna Peters is Leanne Peters mother, and sister in law to both Victoria Peters and Norma Webb.”
Victoria Peters used that email to amend Peters’ petition for an injunction two weeks ago, that was first filed last November.
APTN can confirm between 2012 and 2015 Donna Peters received all the social assistance funding – about $12,000 annually – based on the band council’s ledgers for those years. APTN can also confirm Clifford Peters received about $9,000 a year from the band during that time partially for odd jobs, like snow removal.
When APTN called the home of Donna and Clifford Peters, Donna answered and quickly hung up when asked about the payments.
Peters also refused to comment on the allegations. Webb first said she couldn’t comment because the documents were stolen, then suggested they may be fabricated and demanded to know APTN’s source of information.
APTN informed Webb the ledgers showing the allocations were, at the very least, with their accountant who prepared them, as APTN has emails the accountant sent council during those years. The emails had digital copies of the ledgers as attachments.
INAC was also told by another member of the band in March that she was aware that other people were being denied social assistance.
“Due to all of the court proceeding in progress at the Band Level, this was used to deny access to the social program delivery at the request of Peters Band Members,” wrote Samantha Peters to INAC. “I would like it noted on record that Victoria is getting paid to deliver a program that nobody seems to have access to.”
APTN is unaware of where Indigenous Affairs is with its investigation into the social assistance program but INAC has appointed a financial investigator in Ottawa to assist the Vancouver regional office.
Samantha Peters has been a thorn in the side of council since 2012 when she first began fighting for 66 people to become members of the band. The majority had status through Peters but were not members and not has been approved for membership, including children of current band members.
But it’s been a fight that started much earlier and has been happening since Peters got control over its membership through Section 10 of the Indian Act about 30 years ago.
Council is accused of limiting membership since 1987, thus staying in power all these years as Peters band is basically one big family – everyone is related, yet don’t get along.
It’s divided the nation, just not evenly as the one side has had the votes to stay in power leaving Samantha Peters’ side of the family, about 18 members, on the outside, as previously reported by APTN.
A review of the ledgers between 2012 and 2015, show the lion’s share of funding those years went to members who are known to vote for council.
In fact, in the 2014/15 fiscal year 93.1 per cent of funding, just under $500,000, went to council, their families and those who voted for them.
The fiscal year before that it was 91.2 per cent of about $400,000 in funding.
On top of the funding from INAC, Peters band also receives money for health and payments for hydro and forestry. APTN has learned the band council was able to draw from other revenue and trust accounts to make up for deficits, like in 2013-14 when it pulled about $285,000 from the accounts according to a band council resolution and an email from their accountant.
Some members who voted for council are said, according to court documents, to allegedly received “questionable payments”.
Andrew Genaille, a filmmaker and writer, and his sister Lisa Genaille, who is taking steps to start medical school, are suing the band for “misusing their powers” by allegedly appointing themselves to paid positions, refusing band members “equitable access” to resources and receiving inappropriate payments.
Both were once close to the council and describe growing up in the band office as their mother, Frances Genaille, worked there for three decades as the assistant band administrator until late last year when she was fired. She is suing the band for wrongful dismissal.
The siblings were so close to council that when it received 66 membership applications in 2013 council hired the siblings to review the applicants.
Lisa and Andrew say when they got access to all the band’s files and they learned how the band was allegedly being operated.
“The band’s archives and record keeping were done very poorly and were very disorganized,” Andrew alleges in court, saying he was given “unlimited access” to files.
He tried to hold council accountable but it didn’t last long.
“Once I began questioning Victoria Peters about questionable payments being made,” Andrew details in an affidavit, “she would not provide answers to any of my questions and I was no longer allowed access to the archives.”
Those questionable payments allegedly include money going to Victoria Peters, as a review of the ledgers show she was allocated much more than what she claimed to INAC in the band’s annual audits.
Victoria Peters claimed about $90,000 in salary and $8,000 in expenses but a review of the ledger that year shows she was allocated closer to $170,000, while Webb claimed $35,000 and was allocated $63,000. Leanne Peters claimed $12,000 and was allocated $17,000.
In the 2013/14 fiscal year, Victoria Peters claimed $88,000 while the ledgers shows she allocated $142,000. Webb claimed $24,000 and was allocated $53,000. Leanne claimed $6,000 and was allocated $9,000.
Various programs Victoria Peters was in charge of saw her collect large sums but when asked about them Victoria Peters refused to respond.
One of the questions was about allocations made to one of her children, a minor – one was for hundreds of dollars for “rent” and $6,000 under the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and another $15,000 was allocated to Victoria from a total budget of $31,000.
APTN has been told there is nothing to suggest the child qualified for the funding and Victoria Peters refused to comment when asked.
Victoria Peters also controlled a large budget co-funded by the First Nations Health Authority and INAC.
In 2014/15, the band council received about $140,000 in funding under the FNHA and $70,000 was allocated to Victoria Peters, while the majority of the rest was allocated to people who vote for council and just under $8,000 went to families known to vote against council.
Victoria Peters would not respond to questions about her qualifications to hold the position or why she was claiming so much money from the programs.
That same year the Peters band had its books audited by a firm in Chilliwack, B.C. who found a list of issues with Victoria Peters’ bookkeeping.
“Supporting documents for social assistance and payroll transactions are weak,” wrote the firm MNP after an audit of the bands books. “Cheque requisition forms should be used to show evidence of council approval for social assistance and payroll expenditures.”
MNP also found that social assistance reporting to INAC was not consistent with “actual expenditures incurred.”
Program reimbursement forms and invoices didn’t have signed authorization of chief and council and complete budget information was not prepared for all band operations.
“Expense approval process and supporting documentation is weak which could result in inappropriate payments,” wrote MNP. “In addition, insufficient processes and controls results in increased audit work.”
MNP also had a problem with people receiving payments from the band that had cheque-signing authority, which was Victoria Peters and Chief Norma Webb.
“Recipients of payments who have cheque signing authority should not sign cheques made out to themselves,” the auditor wrote. “Cheques should be signed by authorized individuals who are not also the payee on the cheque.”
Meanwhile, the two elders on Peters say are not surprised by APTN’s investigation.
“We’ve known this for 30 years,” said Robert Peters Jr., whose son is currently before the Federal Court of Canada asking the court to appoint him as a member as council rejected him.
“It’s just awful how they treat people.”
His brother, Ed Peters, 74, is the eldest and his children are not members either as their applications were part of the 66 that were denied. They are members of the Seabird Island First Nation just across the Fraser River.
“We just want it to be fair for everyone,” said Ed Peters, adding he believes council is fueled by “greed.”
He also said jobs Victoria Peters holds, and all others held by Webb and former councillor Leanne Peters, were never posted to for everyone to apply.
“My daughter is the financial advisor for Seabird. She could run the finances at Peters but she never got the chance,” he said.
Samantha Peters also had to look for work at a different nearby First Nation where she works in the forestry sector of the band. Peters has logging rights to land and Samantha said she’s never been approached to help the band.
“On more than one occasion I have openly extended an invitation to chief and council to help with negotiations, agreements, forestry, resources,” she said. “I never heard back from them.”
She said there are a number of qualified people from Peters with various expertise but are not included.
“They use their own personal discretion too often and it’s unprofessional and it costs the band money,” said Samantha. “This is what they learned and it’s dangerous.”