The leadership of Fort McMurray First Nation #468 has obtained an emergency court order to stop protesters from blocking band-owned assets and has suspended a councillor accused of “wrongful conduct.”
On Monday, a group of protesters began blocking access to the First Nation’s main office, as well as the lay-down yard and main office of the band-owned company Christina River Enterprises.
The protesters were demanding a new election and argued the leadership of the First Nation, with the exception of Councillor Samantha Whalen, had failed members on fiscal and transparency issues.
However, a Thursday evening media statement from Chief Ronald Kreutzer says the protesters were preventing the company from performing “essential services,” such as daily sewage and water services to the First Nation and surrounding communities.
The statement says the protests caused “significant risk for the health and safety of individuals, including Elders and infant children.”
In a Tuesday interview, a spokesperson for the protesters denied they were putting anyone at risk.
The protests follow a lawsuit Whalen filed in September alleging some of the First Nation’s leadership misappropriated funds.
Chief Ronald Kreutzer announced Whalen’s suspension and the emergency court order in a Thursday evening media statement.
“Each and every allegation by Ms. Whalen is false and her claims will be defended in court,” he said.
“While we respect and fully support the right of people to express their opinions,” the statement reads, “we expect more constructive and respectful ways to communicate than preventing our employees from accessing their place of work and preventing essential services being delivered to our community and others.”
A second statement from the First Nation’s administrative staff said the suspension “was not an easy one and was done after careful consideration.”
Some of the accusations against Whalen include harassing staff, breaching privacy regulations, interfering with daily operations of the First Nation and organizing the protests.
In a Thursday evening interview, Whalen said she was denying all accusations and plans to formally respond to each charge.
“This is further retaliation against me for filing a civil claim,” she said. “I believe this is another attempt to silence demands for transparency.”
Whalen also says she was fired from her job at Christina River Enterprises for not dropping the lawsuit, along with her mother and husband.
She said she is not dropping her lawsuit against Kreutzer, CEO Bradley Callihoo, Coun. Ronald Allen Kreutzer and former councillor Byron Bates.
Whalen’s lawsuit is seeking a court order that $600,000 in allegedly misused funds be repaid to the nation, a declaration that the defendants “breached their fiduciary duties” and $100,000 in damages payable to the nation.
Whalen alleges the $600,000, which came from a $34.7-million settlement with the federal government, was given to Callihoo as a bonus.
A statement of defence says chief and council did approve a “generous but fair and merited bonus to Callihoo,” and that the decision was made above board.
“We demand further accountability. Enough with taking our money already,” said Whalen. “I’m going to be hear for my people.”
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