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Allegations of corruption surface in northwestern Saskatchewan's Ministikwan Lake

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

For several months, The Buffalo Tribune has been in contact with concerned community members of the Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation of northwestern Saskatchewan. Much of this unease has been directed towards band manager Strider Lacosse, particularly with respect to allegations of financial mismanagement on a massive scale. “He [Lacosse] came on to help us out with finances; to get us out of a deficit, but it feels like we’ve gone in the other direction,” stated one anxious resident (who has sought to remain anonymous out of concern for their safety, and will hereafter be referred to as Person A). Person A claimed to us that Mr. Lacosse, through his company Tripoint Financial Management, has been “taking money from the government by making cheques out to their own names or to their company.” To prove his point, Person A presented us with dozens of scanned images of cheques apparently made out from the band's general account to either Tripoint and the Chief, all of which contained transfers in the thousands of dollars.

Concerned citizens of Ministikwan Lake begin protesting against Tripoint on the morning of September 8, 2020.

“This is the people’s money that’s being stolen—and the worst part is, he’s [Strider] getting away with it, because he’s subverting the democratic process through his close friends on the chief’s council, who I imagine are in on the whole scheme.” Person A then described in worrying detail a local government with deep internal divisions. “Tripoint meets with three of the six councilors and the Chief frequently. On one occasion, two of the dissenting councilors attempted to confront Strider about their personal concerns about him, who responded by stating that he only works for the ‘quorum,’ and that he doesn't have to answer to them.” The situation became even murkier when Person A maintained that general band meetings had stopped occurring altogether in Ministikwan Lake. “Only the three dissenting councilors that aren’t in on the scheme with Lacosse, the Chief, and the others have attempted to keep the democratic process rolling. These three councilors have been attempting to hold unofficial meetings with angered community members to bring back some sort of normalcy, but the Chief, who I like to think of as Lacosse’s crony, and his three ‘stooges’ on the council have been splitting the community by telling people not to show up. They’ve used COVID-19 as an excuse, threatening people who do show up to these meetings to express their concerns with thousand-dollar fines. People are afraid to show up, because if it comes out that they’re upset with Mr. Lacosse’s leadership, they can get fired from their jobs—unduly, of course. Even one of the councilors seeking to host these unofficial meetings had his wife fired for this."

One of the picket signs present at the September 8th protest in Ministikwan Lake.

Accompanying Person A in the meeting with The Buffalo Tribune was another concerned citizen, Person B, who expanded further upon the dismal emotional well-being of their fellow band members. “We’ve experienced first-hand a feeling of defeat due to [Lacosse’s] absence of remorse with respect to firing our own people," they stated. "There’s no form of feeling safe and being guaranteed in our job positions, because Strider has fired so many within our band membership and opened them up for outsiders. We are now being effectively governed by Strider Lacosse, an unelected figure, in all areas, including our finances. People from our Nation are not only angry, but feel hopeless because the Chief and his quorum refuse to sympathize with their own people. Every office in our community is being run by Strider and his select choice of outsiders. Overall, it’s been a trying time since Strider was hired as band manager and a lot of division and hate have been sown.” Person B echoed Person A’s concerns about the division in leadership. “Some dissenting councilors refuse to work with Strider out of principle due to the corruption that he's brought into Ministikwan Lake and because he’s openly stealing from our people. He has been told numerous times to leave, but refuses because he's backed up the quorum and calls himself essential.”

Shortly after, TBT was contacted by one of the three councilors opposing Mr. Lacosse’s position in the community (to be referred hence as Person C). The anonymous councilor confirmed their fellow band members’ statements about how the band council was being run by quorum and was not respecting majority council vote, and how the Chief and Lacosse had threatened the community with fines for unofficial band meetings. However, Person C delved deeper into the fraudulent on-goings they had witnessed during his position as councilor in Ministikwan. “It’s worse than you’d think. On April 1st, one of the councilors working close with Strider released a memo on Facebook reporting that the 1.2 million dollars of government settlement funds our community was supposed to receive as part of the Ammunition & Twine agreement would not be released for another 6 months."

"I'm on the council. I can tell you, the money had actually come through that same month. This was nothing but a bold-faced lie. The vast majority of the community has agreed time and time again to disseminate these monies to all band members over 18. The chief and some of my fellow councilors, however, evidently had other plans.” Person C alleged that Ministikwan Lake's lawyer, Bruce Sluser, who had been in charge of handling the settlement case, was directed to invest $500,000 from the government discharge into a construction company soon after the alleged 'delay' announced on the 1st, even though this went against the wishes of the community."

Bruce Sluser, who handled the Amm. and Twine case for 17 years, responds to his termination.

After refusing to do so, Person C stated that Sluser, after having worked on the settlement case for decades, was unjustly fired. “He [Sluser] was then ordered to immediately deposit the $1.2 million into a suspicious account that he didn’t recognize. He was let go after he also refused to do this."

Bruce Sluser's response, continued.

Person C continued. "It’s worth mentioning that whoever penned the letter of termination and the letter instructing him to deposit the money into that account had, at least in my opinion, forged the signature of the Chief, although I can't prove this.” We concluded by asking Person C why no government agency had stepped in as of yet to resolve this shocking allegation of corruption, and what the stolen money might be used for. “Oh, INAC probably knows all about what’s going on here. They just don’t want to step in to have to deal with this mess, because it runs deep. About the theft of community funds, I believe Mr. Lacosse, who has been bankrupt in the past, is using our money to get out of debt. It’s an egregious break of faith to have your local government work against its own citizens.”

Protest signs making reference to Mr. Lacosse's debt on September 8th.

The Buffalo Tribune contacted Chief Leslie Crookedneck for comment on the serious allegations put forward by members of his community against the Nation's band manager and his own leadership. We received no response. Shortly after, protests broke out on Wednesday against Lacosse in Ministikwan Lake, blocking off the local school, band office and health clinic before turning ugly, with certain controversial councilors considered to be 'pro-Strider' clashing with protesters. The Buffalo Tribune will follow this story closely as new details emerge.

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