Yekooche First Nation is a remote Indigenous community located about 85 km northwest of Fort St. James, but its financial office is in Prince George.
Today (Feb. 14), Mathew Joseph was locked out of the Third Avenue building as he faces allegations of fraud and financial misuse he claims are not true.
He was sworn in on Jan. 9, 2018 as the new Yekooche Chief, but according to a notice he says he received at the band office, he’s subject to a recall and no longer has that title.
Joseph, however, believes the recall wasn’t properly conducted and there’s no basis for a by-election and that he remains in his position.
“I’ve been illegally removed from office by nine members signing a recall petition,” said Joseph at a media conference outside the Prince George financial office this morning.
“On the recall provisions, it states that 40 per cent of eligible members must sign the petition [to activate a by-election]. INAC [Indigneous and Northern Affairs Canada], the bank, the electoral officer and the RCMP have been informed with this process and it’s been very difficult for the community and all the illegal activities that has transpired by two councillors and the finance director that have allegedly produced a recall petition in the surrounding communities.”
He explains the allegation involves unconfirmed misuse of the band’s VISA card, but says there’s no truth to them and claims his recall is the work of three particular individuals within the same four walls.
“The finance director that has orchestrated with two council members an illegal recall petition and has been filed with INAC and it’s INAC’s judiciary responsibility to make sure that the band’s assets are managed properly and regardless of custom code.”
When explaining the background of the claim to media members, Joseph and some of his supporters in attendance said the First Nation has gone through several band managers, with the most recent one being let go as a result of a conversation with the band’s financial director.
Melissa Joseph said the band had owed, at one point, $2 million and were at risk of losing everything unless the financial director was able to work collaboratively with the band manager, but adds that never happened and was eventually voted out by nearly 30 Yekooche members.
“It’s dividing our community, people are getting false information from others, he’s been locked out of our band office and now he’s locked out of our financial office.”
As a result of the allegations and subsequent recall of Joseph’s title, he and supporters have called for an All-Band Members Meeting in Yekooche later this month.
When asked by PrinceGeorgeMatters about his relations with the community that elected him two years ago, Joseph believes they support him 100 per cent.
“It has been very stressful for the community, especially the allegations, the separation and the conflict it has caused among the community members,” he said, adding the First Nation contains more than 230 band members.
“The community wants to move forward and this has been going on for a number of years [...] They have been well aware of our situation and they have not replied for now.”
The meeting is set for Saturday. Feb. 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Joseph says a conference call is also being arranged with INAC.
Ultimately, if his recall as Tekooche Chief proves fair, a by-election would take place.