The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has compiled data that shows some aboriginal politicians earn higher salaries than Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Colin Craig, the federation's director for the Prairie region, said it took more than a year to get the salary figures from the Department of Indian Affairs.
“People want to keep this hush-hush,” said Craig.
The data shows that 222 aboriginal chiefs and counselors from First Nations communities across Canada earn more money than their provincial premiers, and 82 make more than the prime minister.
“There's a pretty atrocious example coming from [the] Maritimes, $978,000 tax-free … for someone off-reserve,” said Craig. “That's for a community of about 304 people. “It's disgusting this is going on in Canada.”
The taxpayers federation wants aboriginal leaders to post their salaries online so they are publicly available.
Solange Garson, an aboriginal woman living in northern Manitoba, has been pushing for audits, budgets and financial statements from band councils. “We want to know where all the money is going,” said Garson.
Ron Evans, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said he is disturbed and surprised to see the numbers. Evans says he earned $78,000 when he was chief of a northern Manitoba First Nation; now, he earns $115,000 tax-free.
Evans said there are many chiefs earning less than $60,000 a year with no pensions when they retire or are voted out of office.
“If a few are making more than premiers and the prime minister, then nobody supports that, but it's up to those communities to change that,” said Evans.
The issue came up in the House of Commons Monday as Conservative MP Kelly Block introduced a private member's bill that would force First Nations leaders to reveal their salaries and other income and benefits.
The Liberals meantime say they'd like to see the government create a First Nations auditor general to help make aboriginal politicians more accountable.
NDP aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said the Conservative transparency bill calls for more information than is required by other levels of government and would need amendments before she supports it.
“A small percentage of people are making a lot of money,” she said. “Those communities have to hold them accountable and vote them out.”