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Ndilo chief suspended over letter
Signed letter states police should investigate millions in 'missing diamonds

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 15, 2012

Ndilo Chief Ted Tsetta has been suspended without pay for signing a letter that raised concerns about alleged mismanagement and corruption within the Yellowknives Dene First Nations band council.

"One thing after another led to this letter being sent to Ottawa and now I pay the price for it," said Tsetta. "I'm the one who has been suspended for it and I'm the one that's going without pay. But I knew that that might happen. I put my job on the line for my membership."

Former band councillor Nuni Sanspariel also signed the letter, which was sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. However, though both men endorsed the letter, it was the membership who wrote it, according to Tsetta.

"I'm just the messenger," he said. "When you get direction from the membership you have to do what they tell you."

The letter calls for third-party management of the band and the termination of Dettah Chief Ed Sangris as well as the band council. A petition is circulating to remove the current leadership, save Tsetta.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) did not return phone calls despite repeated efforts to contact them over the past week. Yellowknifer also asked for a list of current band councillors but has yet to receive one.

Tsetta said he agrees the current council should be removed but he has nothing against Sangris.

"I've been battling with this council for quite some time," he said, adding he didn't want to elaborate on why. "I'm not going to point fingers at councillors. They have done the damage and I'm just going to leave it at that."

When asked if he would run again when his term is up in June 2013, Tsetta said he was undecided. He also said that some of the membership in Ndilo has suggested splitting from Dettah and becoming an independent community.

"I think it's time for membership here in Ndilo to decide what kind of community they want to see and what kind of government system should be in place."

Tsetta said he has concerns about the current council's lack of communication with the public and the decision to use the band's money to pay for the Det'on Cho Corporation's debt.

"That's how it all started. We wanted to know why YKDFN membership had to pay the Det'on Cho's debt," he said. "(Impact and benefit agreement) money doesn't say that we had to pay debt with it. That's not what the IBAs are for. IBAs are there for education, business opportunities and cultural activities."

In 2000, the Yellowknives Dene started Det'on Cho Diamonds, a diamond cutting house, but it went under in 2002. The closure forced the government to cover a $2.6 million loan guarantee, which the Det'on Cho Corp. was responsible for paying back. The plant later reopened in 2003 under the name Det'on Cho Diamonds.

It closed again in 2006.

The letter stated that not only did the Yellowknives lose money from that operation but it alleges that tens of millions of dollars in diamonds belonging to the band have gone missing.

The membership is also calling for a forensic financial audit of the Yellowknives' affairs, including Canada Dene Diamonds, going back to 1998 to look for any potential fraud.

In the meantime, Tsetta said he would like to see a new generation of band members on council.

"It's time for us to repair it and let the young people try," he said. "They may be young but I'm sure there are a lot of bright members out there who will help us overcome the problem we are enduring. If anybody can do it, we can do it."

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