Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Regional Chief Morley Googoo has asked chiefs in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to challenge AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde on the organization’s recent decision to suspend Googoo after allegations of harassment against the Mi’kmaq leader were made public last week.
APTN News obtained a copy of the briefing note written July 20, a day after CBC reported allegations against Googoo of discrimination and gender-based bullying against the former head of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association (NSNWA) and other Mi’kmaw women.
It was then sent to the AFN after the organization’s executive council announced on Monday it was initiating a process to suspend Googoo.
The document suggests the AFN executive does not have the authority to suspend Googoo and alleges that Bellegarde told Googoo during an undated phone conversation, “Just do your job in the region and send a proxy to national meetings.”
The briefing note highlights nine “points” by Googoo making a case against his suspension.
It also includes two questions Googoo wants chiefs from his region at the assembly to ask the national chief.
One question asks Bellegarde to confirm if he told Googoo not to attend national meetings.
The other asks if the AFN executive’s decision to suspend Googoo was “based on the media story,” referring to the July 19 CBC article.
“Why didn’t the Executive Committee consult with the Chiefs from the region?” the document says as a follow-up to the second question.
The AFN announced its decision on Tuesday and said Googoo has 20 days to respond before the suspension would come into effect.
Googoo is out of the country and did not attend the assembly in Fredericton.
He has not answered APTN’s questions regarding the note.
APTN confirmed Googoo’s briefing note was drafted by Rhonda Knockwood, an advisor on contract with Googoo’s office, and sent to chiefs in the region ahead of the AFN’s Annual General Assembly in Fredericton this week.
An AFN spokesperson confirmed that a meeting took place Tuesday between Bellegarde and multiple chiefs from Googoo’s region but did not say what was discussed.
Bellegarde declined multiple requests for an on camera interview and did not respond to APTN’s request for comment.
After Thursday’s closing ceremonies in Fredericton the national chief refused to say whether he asked Googoo to stay away from regional meetings.
See what happened to APTN reporter Amber Bernard when she tried to ask Bellegarde a question about Googoo:
Most of the Nova Scotia chiefs and proxies left the assembly Thursday morning.
At the time of publication none had responded to APTN’s request by email for comment on the situation.
Qalipu First Nation Chief Brendan Mitchell, who represents one of two Mi’kmaq communities in Newfoundland, told APTN Thursday morning he had no knowledge of a meeting, or of Googoo’s briefing note to chiefs in the region.
Mitchell said he hopes to discuss the matter with other Mi’kmaq chiefs soon and that he would have to consult with his own council before making a decision to support Googoo, or support Googoo’s suspension.
Membertou First Nation councillor Graham Marshall acted as a proxy for Googoo in Fredericton.
Asked multiple times about the briefing note and whether he had knowledge of a meeting, Marshall repeated, “I am just here as a proxy.”
AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart is a member of the organization’s executive and was part of the decision to suspend Googoo.
He told APTN Thursday the executive “had no choice” but to enact the AFN’s zero-tolerance policy.
“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.”
An independent report commissioned by the Tripartite Forum—an organization including Mi’kmaq, provincial and federal governments—last year found that Googoo had engaged in “direct discrimination” against Cheryl Maloney, former head of the NSNWA, and other Mi’kmaq women.
The report says Maloney alleged Googoo harassed her “and engaged in gender-based bullying against her, and other women associated with the [Tripartite] Forum, resulting in an unsafe work environment.”
Maloney further alleged that Googoo’s conduct “amounted to discrimination against women and the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association.”
Googoo has denied the report’s findings, saying the allegations are “not true to me.”
On Wednesday Miawpukek First Nation (MFN) Chief Mi’sel Joe sent a letter to Bellegarde commending the National Chief’s “swift response” to the investigation report and noting the allegations are part of a “pattern of behaviour” with Googoo.
“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.”
Miawpukek Chief Mi’sel Joe says his community does not want Googoo restored to his position as regional chief. APTN file photo.
Joe says 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.
“Given the pattern of behaviour of this individual, please note, we will not be a part of any process to restore him to this position. Violence against women has to stop, and we need to ensure it does. If the AFN and its member First Nations condone the actions of Regional Chief Googoo, how can we in good conscience hold society and other governments accountable in carrying out the calls to justice in the MMIWG final report.”
Googoo’s briefing note states that no charges have been laid against him.
It also says the proposed suspension is not about him, but rather about “whether the national AFN Executive has authority over conduct of Regional Chiefs which circumvents the authority of the Chiefs in the region.”
In 2017 he was charged with assault and disturbing the peace after an altercation with a security guard at a hotel in Membertou First Nation.
The charge was dropped in 2018 after the former Waycobah First Nation chief successfully completed a restorative justice program.
Perry Bellegarde avoided questions from APTN on Thursday regarding Googoo’s claim that the national chief asked Googoo to stay away from national meetings. Photo: Justin Brake/APTN.
On Tuesday Assembly of First Nations Youth Council Co-Chair Rosalie LaBillois commended the AFN executive for its decision on Gogooo.
“I think it’s really empowering to see…our leaders at this regional and executive level taking those stances,” she said.
Hart, whose portfolio includes the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, referenced the Me Too movement in his interview with APTN Thursday.
He said the situation with Googoo is symbolic of the culture of disrespect for and mistreatment of First Nations women.
“If you look at the misogyny in circles, all of us as men at one point or another has made comments, and we have to learn from those mistakes moving forward,” he said.
With files from Amber Bernard.