Why couldn't Chief Richard Ben pay his reserve's bills?

A devastating fire on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan Indian Reservation caused the death of two toddlers early on the morning of Tuesday February 17th.

It has since come to light that the Indian Reserve had lost its firefighting protection last year, when the much smaller white village down the road got tired of them reneging on the bills. CBC has now posted some of the correspondance between the Village of Loon Lake and the Makwa Sahgaiehcan Indian Reserve on this issue. January 30th was the letter where Loon Lake specifically told the Indians that when a fire occurred, not to call it in.

Let's be perfectly clear on this: the Village of Loon Lake (population: 390 people) doesn't owe anything to the Makwa Reserve (population: 923 people) in terms of fire response services. That is, just as its name implies, a service. Services can and must be revoked in the event that the recipient doesn't pay the bills, and continues to not pay the bills. The relatively low figure in this case ($3,380.89) is ultimately irrelevent to the overall principle.

Why did the Makwa Reserve fail to pay the bill? It's only $3,400, and...

A recent access-to-information request by The Canadian Press shows Makwa Sahgaiehcan was given just over $11,000 for fire protection in each of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 fiscal years.
So the Indians were given money by the Canadian taxpayer for their fire protection, which they apparently kept for themselves rather than spending the money on what they were supposed to spend it on: services for their municipality. It turns out that they even have their own fire truck!
But the head of the volunteer firefighters in neighbouring Loon Lake -- who up until last year provided fire services to Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation -- says he has never seen the truck in commission.

Larry Heon told QMI Agency the last time he saw the truck, a few years ago, it was "sitting in the bush."
Is that truck still there? Is it derelict and being used to sniff gas and drink Lysol? Has it, in a fit of irony but totally normal for abandoned vehicles on reserves, been set on fire and left as a burnt husk? I put the question to the readers of SmallDeadAnimals, but especially with this recent incident I'm sure the band will be making sure nobody ever sees or hears from this truck again. It drives home the larger point, though: the Makwa Sahgaiehcan Indian Reserve has been provided resources in order to provide fire response to their community. And they've squandered it. Thousands of federal dollars to pay for fire services that apparently were spent on other purposes.

Due to the Federal First Nations Financial Transparency Act, Makwa has been required to post their expenses online, and let me tell you it makes for some interesting reading! Loon Lake apparently can provide fire services to their tiny village for $14,500 while Makwa blew $60,000 on "fire suppression" in a single year and yet managed to not pay the bill for the firefighting services that they received. Where'd all that money go?

Over in Loon Lake, the head of the volunteer firefighters is also the mayor: Larry Heon. He's paid a whopping $964 a year to be the mayor (plus $65 reimbursed to Larry, probably for petty cash purchases like running to Rona and picking up a can of paint since one of the walls in the office got scuffed). In fact, Larry and the other six councilors cost the Loon Lake taxpayer some $4,019 in total remuneration.

Over at the Makwa Reserve, that $4,000 covers the cellphone allowance for a single councilor! A total of $26,000 was spent on cellphone allowances alone. Chief Richard Ben is paid an $80,000 salary: 83 times more than Heon is paid. And that doesn't even count his $18,655 travel budget, his $3,500 "other payments" [that's a lot of cans of paint for the office! -ed]...but at least the Makwa Reserve doesn't pay for his cellphone. Total payments to Chief Ben -- who cannot provide fire protection to his citizens -- is $102,155. That's $110.67 per resident of Makwa just for the Chief. Larry Heon costs each of his residents $2.64 a year: that's 1/42nd the per capita cost.

Larry Heon puts in his own time to be a volunteer fireman. Why can't Richard Ben do the same thing? He could even pay himself the $18,655 he usually spends on travel and be the paid fire chief, it still means at the end of the day Makwa Reserve has fire protection. The real killer is despite how much of a bargain Heon is compared to Ben, Chief Richard Ben is a bargain compared to his councilors!

Remember when Chief Dances-With-Buffet was found to be paying her boyfriend to be the "co-manager and director of finance"? Well apparently Councilor Ronald Mitsuing is giving himself the same deal: along with his $39,000 salary and his $24,000 honoraria and his $24,445 travel allowance and his $4,000 cellphone allowance and his $4,084 "other payments"...(pause to take a deep breath)...Ronald Mitsuing also receives $72,162 in "Contracts" payments likely due to him also having a role as a director or manager or some shit. Walter Mitsuing (another Mitsuing? What a coincidence!) receives $3,675 in contract payments which looks completely reasonable by comparison. Sure, Walt's contract payments alone represent 91% of the cost of the entire Village Council of Loon Lake, but let's not quibble. Mitsuing must be the Plains Cree version of Smith, since there's a third Mitsuing serving as a town councilor. You know how whenever you find three brothers, one's always the "junior" brother who's a tagalong to the other two who really run the show? Dean Mitsuing must be the tagalong: poor bastard gets no contract payments and his total renumeration is a mere $94,483 (compared to Walter's $95,929 and Ronald's $167,691).

The Mitsuing family costs Makwa Sahgaiehcan $358,103 every single year. And for what? What value do they get out of it?

They certainly don't get any firefighting out of it! None of the Mitsuing Clan are volunteer firefighting out of a civic duty. Donovan Fineblanket [you made that name up. You had to have made that name up. -ed] gets a $6,000 cellphone allowance. For $500 a month in cellphone bills, all Makwa reserve gets is the ability to phone down the road to the guys who actually fight fires and help their community. In return for having at least two of the three Mitsuing boys share a single cellphone, they could have paid their delinquent bill to Loon Lake and had a fire truck that wasn't a burnt out husk drive over and try to save two boys in a fire.

There are angry calls on Twitter that Larry Heon's volunteer fire department should be "ashamed" that they refused to respond to the emergency call that ultimately killed two children. No. The shame rests entirely with the Makwa band council, who has no problem collecting $744,186 for their "management" of the reserve, but balks at paying $3,380.89 when the good men at Loon Lake ask to be paid for the wear and tear on their equipment and bodies when they put their own lives at risk responding to one of the reserves many fires.

Loon Lake is not responsible for the welfare of Makwa Sahgaiehcan. Makwa Sahgaiehcan is. That they have shirked their duty, that they have decided to take fat paycheques instead of providing the services they are supposed to be providing, that all rests entirely on them.

If any councilors who run a community "killed" two toddlers, it's these guys:
Richard Ben
Walter Mitsuing
Ronald Mitsuing
Donovan Fineblanket
Derrick Cantre
Frank Kytwayhat
Dean Mitsuing

See? He's even at the bottom of the list. Tagalong brother, I'm telling you.

Update, February 20 2015 1:53pm: Lots of additional material on this issue. The decrepit reservation culture is examined in more detail, we've located the hilariously useless truck, and the Mitsuing family continues its shameful behaviour: only this time he's going to be facing a judge.