AFN suspends regional chief pending discrimination investigation

The executive council of the Assembly of First Nations has suspended Nova Scotia-Newfoundland Regional Chief Morley Googoo following the re​lease of a report outlining how he discriminated against Mi’kmaq women.

An AFN spokesperson confirmed Thursday that members of the organization’s executive met Wednesday in Vancouver and decided to suspend Googoo with pay.

“At a meeting with the AFN Regional Chiefs and National Chief yesterday in Vancouver, B.C., it was decided that AFN Nova Scotia-Newfoundland Regional Chief Morley Googoo is suspended with pay pending the results of an investigation led by external legal counsel,” said a written statement sent to APTN News.

“Details of the meeting are confidential and AFN will provide no further comment until the investigation is complete and a decision is made by the AFN Executive. The investigation will move quickly and diligently but does not presuppose a timeline. The decision of the AFN Executive will be made public once determined.”

A September 2018 independent report commissioned by the Tripartite Forum — an organization bringing together Mi’kmaq, provincial and federal government decision-makers — outlined how Googoo engaged in “direct discrimination” against former Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association President Cheryl Maloney.

Maloney alleged that Googoo subjected her, and other women involved in the Tripartite Forum, to harassment and “gender-based bullying,” which contributed to an “unsafe work environment,” according to the report.

Googoo has denied the allegations.

In a written statement shared with APTN Thursday by his lawyer, Mike Maloney, Googoo calls news of the investigation “disappointing,” but says he “will continue to cooperate with the process.”

“I continue to reject any suggestion that I have ever held a gender bias or acted to diminish anyone and in particular any organization working to support Indigenous people,” he says.

Just days after news of the 2017 allegations and the report’s subsequent findings were made public the AFN executive served Googoo with a 20-day suspension notice.

Days later APTN obtained a memo originating from Googoo’s office addressed to the chiefs in his region asking them to push back against the AFN over its decision to suspend him.

That document, APTN reported in July, suggests that the AFN doesn’t have the authority to suspend Googoo.

It also alleges that AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde told Googoo during an undated phone conversation, “Just do your job in the region and send a proxy to national meetings.”

Googoo did not attend the AFN’s annual general assembly in Fredericton days after the briefing note was written.

Bellegarde declined to comment on Googoo’s note and the allegation that the national chief told Googoo to stay away from national meetings.

Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart told APTN during the meetings in Fredericton that the executive “had no choice” but to enact the AFN’s zero-tolerance policy around harassment.

“We didn’t want women and other people feeling uncomfortable if they came here,” he said.

“Because at the end of the day our job as a regional chief, and as executive at the national table—including the national chief—is to make sure we advocate first and foremost to protect the rights and sovereignty of our people, but also to make sure we protect our citizens.”

In August Maloney filed a series of complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against executive members of the Tripartite Forum and the First Nations, provincial and federal partners.

She named Bellegarde, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett in her complaints.

Former Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association President Cheryl Maloney says the AFN’s investigation into Googoo won’t turn up the same evidence a previous investigation commissioned by the Tripartite Forum did. APTN file photo.

The well-know advocate for First Nations women’s rights told APTN last month that she filed the human rights complaints because the Tripartite Forum members knew about Googoo’s behaviour but did nothing to address it.

“It’s been almost a year since these officials had this report and nobody’s still addressed the claim, the concerns, the harassment that we all suffered,” she said, explaining there’s been “dead silence” from provincial, federal and Mi’kmaw officials since the report was made public.

“Why would a woman step up when there’s nobody to support her?” she said. “And there’s no one to support me — I was the president of a strong women’s organization…and now silence.”

Googoo said in a statement at the time that “it is disappointing that this discussion continues,” and that he “continue[s] to fully cooperate, as I have done throughout this process.”

The regional chief maintained he has “never held a gender bias in the work place or otherwise nor do I believe that I have acted aggressively or unfairly toward my co-workers or employees.

“My focus has and always will be to bring more opportunities to our communities and carrying on with work that I am doing.”

Responding to the human rights complaint against McNeil, the premier’s Press Secretary David Jackson said in a statement to APTN that “Nova Scotia took this issue very seriously to ensure it was considered in the context of its role as a member of the Tripartite Forum.

“The forum’s three partners are working together to ensure the independent report’s recommendations are addressed, which include workplace harassment policies and training.”

Bennett and Bellegarde declined to comment on the human rights complaints.

In his statement Thursday Googoo suggested the fallout resulting from the allegations against him are a “distraction”.

“I am committed to building on our many successes and delivering the kind of results-based outcomes that my office has become known for. Any distraction to these projects and initiatives only serves to slow the momentum and direct benefit to Indigenous communities across Mi’kma’ki.”

Maloney told APTN Thursday that the AFN’s investigation is a “waste of time” because it won’t uncover the “depth” of the matter.

“There’s so much already in the public, in the news,” she said, referring to assault charges against Googoo from a 2017 incident in Membertou First Nation. Those charges were later dropped after Googoo completed a restorative justice program.

“[T]hey’re not going to nearly get the depth of testimony that the independent investigation had — because all the women in the [Tripartite] forum were able to speak within their capacity within their employment,” Maloney said.

“The AFN isn’t going to get that level of evidence because the women aren’t going to feel safe and free, and protected, to speak with them. And I don’t know if they want to. So I kind of feel it’s a waste of their time.”

“Unfortunately,” Maloney added, Googoo is “a powerful man” and has access to resources that she doesn’t.

“He has money to hire a lawyer,” he said. “I’ve been trying for a year to get a lawyer and I can’t. For one, I’m not suspended with pay. Two, nobody can take my case because they’re in conflict with either the federal government, provincial government or First Nations. So to me this just shows another imbalance of power between Indigenous leaders and Indigenous women.”

In a July letter to Bellegarde, Miawpukek First Nation Chief Mi’sel Joe commending the national chief’s “swift response” to the investigation report.

“With the recent 231 Calls to Justice outlined from the MMIW inquiry, it is imperative that as leaders, we are seen as removing perpetrators of violence from within our organizations. You have demonstrated great leadership here and MFN supports your decision to suspend,” the chief wrote.

Joe also said Miawpukek “will be strongly recommending further action that NS and NL First Nations and the AFN can take to send a strong message that this type of action from our leadership will not be tolerated.”

Executive Producer / Ottawa

Justin Brake has French, Irish, British and Mi'kmaq roots and hails from Ktaqamkuk, Mi'kma'ki, or Newfoundland. He joined APTN News in 2017 and works from the Ottawa bureau as the executive producer for the eastern region.