‘Over the top’: Native Women’s Association of Canada embroiled in controversy

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is in turmoil after it laid off half of its workforce last week.

The organization blames cutbacks in federal government funding.

But there are also allegations of a hostile workplace and employees being punished for seeking protection through a union drive.

CEO Lynn Groulx says the organization had no choice but to let 75 employees go due to funding shrinking to $10 million from $48 million.

“There are decisions that are made by the government to either not renew funding or cut funding, and that decision this year has been very significant and for NWAC much more than previous years,” she told APTN News.

But reportedly there are other reasons behind the job cuts.

CBC News was the first to reveal allegations of a hostile work environment and management pushing back against unionization.

“Well, the Native Women’s Association of Canada is not an Indigenous-led organization,” says Crystal Semaganis, who worked at NWAC from 2021 to 2023. “I have been to the headquarters at NWAC several times over the last few years and what I noticed is there is very few Indigenous women on staff.

“And I just felt there was a lot of colonial violence happening within my employment and within my regular expectations of being an employee.”

Semaganis suggested a new NWAC headquarters across the river from Ottawa in Gatineau, Que., and the construction of a new healing lodge in Chelsea, Que., send the wrong message.

“I have been allowed supervised visits to the mansion in the Gatineau Hills. It is over the top, very elaborate with an indoor pool – very, very, you know, five-star kind of facility. Very expensive.”

Ellen Gabriel, a former president of Quebec Native Women, says it appears NWAC has lost its way.

“I think more than anything it makes me feel sad,” Gabriel said Monday. “Because women who started the Indigenous women’s rights movement – like Mary Two-Axe Earley and all those women – they’ve really fought hard to get equality of rights for Indigenous women under the Indian Act.”

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