By Lloyd Dolha
Leaders of the breakaway Western Indigenous Alliance are demanding fundamental changes to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) and are threatening to pull out of the national body representing off reserve aboriginal peoples unless their demands are met.
The future of the congress has been cast in serious doubt since allegations of improper misconduct have surfaced about Canadian Senate appointee Patrick Brazeau, who until recently was the “national chief” of the troubled organization.
“We’ve been clear that there are three issues from our viewpoint: the Manitoba PTO (provincial/territorial organization) is still a member and needs to be reinstated; the Alberta and Northwest Territories (PTOS) have made application for membership and the leadership (of CAP) needs to facilitate their applications so they become full members by the next AGM; and we want to see the report,” said United Native Nations president David Dennis, B.C. affiliate to CAP and leader of the breakaway alliance.
That report is an internal independent report that supposedly cleared Brazeau of any wrongdoing. But Will Menard, the head of the Manitoba wing of the congress said the executive summary mentioned “inappropriate behaviour.” The report’s full contents were withheld to protect the identity of those who cooperated anonymously. However, a sexual harassment complaint against Brazeau is now before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and other allegations about his professional conduct have swirled around the embattled appointee since then.
In 2007, Jade Harper was an events coordinator at CAP. Harper said that abuse of alcohol inside and outside of the office among senior staff was common, and inappropriate sexual behaviour was a “daily common occurrence.” Harper said she wrote a three-page grievance directly to Brazeau outlining her concerns that went ignored. She decided to go public after hearing Brazeau was appointed to the Senate and another former employee had filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.
Menard’s Manitoba wing, the Aboriginal Council of Manitoba, was suspended from the CAP last fall before the annual general meeting, where he had intended to air those allegations. The congress, however, maintains that the suspension was related to the Manitoba branch’s misrepresentation of membership figures and other issues of accountability.
Leaders from the Ontario Coalition of Aboriginal Peoples, the Aboriginal Council of Manitoba, the Aboriginal Affairs Coalition of Saskatchewan, and B.C.’s United Native Nations met in Saskatoon on January 10th, to discuss their concerns about CAP in what they see as an eastern-dominated organization.
The eastern PTOs dominate voting in the congress with six members that include Quebec, Nova Scotia, Labrador, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. They also maintain their own eastern umbrella organization. The western PTOs include Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia and Manitoba. The Alberta PTO retains only observer status and the Northwest Territories has applied for membership.
Dennis said there are no plans to formally break away from the congress or formalize the Western Indigenous Alliance. “We’re trying to bring change to the congress,” he said. “The issue of Western alienation has been a concern for a number of years now. The future of the congress rests on the ability of to bring these western PTOs to full membership status rather than figure out ways to deny them.”
Dennis said the western PTOs also called for an end of the practice of routinely supporting the Conservative’s government’s aboriginal policies. Dennis said they believe Brazeau’s repeated backing of Conservative policies is the reason he was appointed to the senate.
Will Menard could not be reached for comment, but Kim Beaudin (president of the Saskatchewan affiliate) said the Manitoba affiliate’s reinstatement is one of their top concerns. “We want Manitoba back in the fold. We want to ensure they’re back at the table, that they have a voice,” he said. Beaudin also pointed out that the Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba PTOs receive no federal funding and that the UNN’s budget was cut some $70,000 recently. The Western PTOs have to stick together to lobby for federal funds and address concerns such as youth gangs that are endemic to the western provinces.
When questioned whether he would call on the Harper government to deny Brazeau’s appointment to the Senate if the sexual harassment charges against Brazeau now before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal are found to have merit, Dennis would only say, “There is no official position from the western alliance. We’re waiting on the full report. Until then, we are going to reserve our comment.”