DEFENDING OUR SOVEREIGNTY

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rise of the Eastern Empire: Lavallee's Plan to Dismantle the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

This blog is about CAP's demise and to ask whether anyone cares? I would love to hear from folks about this blog and CAP in general. I worried about using "Congress of Aboriginal Peoples" as the title to this blog because I assumed that most of you would be thinking "Who?". Seriously though, some of you may be wondering what the heck has happened to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP). In my last blog, I wrote that they have essentially fallen off the face of the earth.

http://indigenousnationhood.blogspot.com/2010/11/slow-painful-death-of-cap-can-it-be.html

We (those who live off-reserve in Canada) do not ever hear from CAP or its President Betty-Ann Lavallee in the media, in the community, or anywhere else for that matter. On APTN's InFocus (Jan.21, 2011 edition), the political panel talked about how irrelevant organizations like CAP are when they do not reach out to the people they claim to represent.

http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2011/01/24/january-21-2011/

Aside from CAP's lack of engagement with the substantial Aboriginal population that lives off-reserve in Canada (50% of total Aboriginal population), CAP's current President is taking the organization on a nosedive into oblivion and if those who care about the organization don't do something soon, it could be gone forever. Many of you who have contacted me have indicated that it is your opinion that President Lavallee simply doesn't have the skills or capacity to lead a national organization because as many have commented, she nearly tanked her own provincial organization in New Brunswick - the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council (NBAPC) and at the very least, made it politically irrelevant.

http://www.nbapc.org/

I appreciate the feedback from grassroots folks and I can definitely relate. In fact, I used to be a member of the NBAPC and watched the organization grow over the last 40 years and have actually seen it when it was a strong political voice and engaged with the off-reserve community. Sadly, I have also seen it in the last 10-15 years slowly become less effective as a political voice, less engaged with the off-reserve Aboriginal people and become an elite club that would rather spend money on lawyers against their own membership than use those lawyers to defend our Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Why has the NBAPC gone downhill after such a strong history? Many of you have commented that the reason is Lavallee's poor leadership skills, her lack of knowledge on Aboriginal issues, her lack of connection to our First Nation communities, her lack of political experience, and some have even suggested that she has other, more sinister motives. While I respect everyone's opinions, I always base my opinions on fact versus conjecture, but in this case, they proved to be one in the same.

I personally can speak to a time when the mood of the community was to have a non-confidence vote and remove Lavallee as President of NBAPC, so instead of dealing with the issue, she skipped the Annual General Meeting (AGM). At subsequent meetings, she claimed that she could not be removed as President because she was an employee of NBAPC and not a political leader. Her lawyer started appearing at more and more meetings, which had the effect (for many) of effectively silencing them.

If that does not say it all, I don't know what does. Our people elect leaders to speak for them, not to be lead by lawyers, consultants, or staff. The situation had become so bad, many people simply stopped participating. I for one, resigned as a member so that I could exercise my voice without fear of retaliation.

AGMs became more predicatible as Lavallee did not report on significant accomplishments she made for NBAPC each year, instead we got a copy of her calendar which said which days she was in the office and which days she was out sick. As members started to speak out, ask questions and demand more, Lavallee started to attend AGMs and board meetings with her lawyer.

We knew then that there was no getting rid of her unless she left voluntarily. Then when Patrick Brazeau jumped ship to become a conservative Senator, Lavallee set her sights on CAP. As I explained in my last blog, many off-reserve folks thought that the only way to get rid of her in NB was to vote her in as President of CAP, because CAP's Constitution and By-laws had a specific provision that would allow votes of non-confidence.

http://www.abo-peoples.org/CAP/About/CAP_ByLaws_Constitution_2007.pdf

As expected, Lavallee was voted in as President and CAP has been dying a slow death ever since. However, while I used to think it was a capacity issue: poor leadership skills and a lack of knowledge and experience - I was shocked to find out it was her plan all along. It is no accident that CAP is dying, in fact when Lavallee was President of the NBAPC AND the Vice-President of CAP, she called for CAP to be dismantled!

It gets worse than this - not only did she want CAP to be dismantled, but she wanted the financial support to be funnelled back east to support her organization and that of those affiliated with the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council (MAPC) an organization that represents the NBAPC, Native Council of Nova Scotia (NCNS) and the Native Council of PEI (NCPEI).

http://www.ikanawtiket.ca/

How do I know this? Well, today I was sent a copy of a letter dated May 28, 2009 that was addressed to Fred Caron, ADM of the Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians, and signed by Lavallee when she was President of NBAPC and Vice-President of CAP. It is not posted online anywhere, so I will reproduce the text below (all the grammar and spelling mistakes are from the letter itself):

"As you know, for many years now we have discussed the idea of ways we could make the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council more recognized as a real credible organization. In the East, we have run it so far as a formal group but now I think it is the right time to go further and officially recognize the important role it plays for Aboriginal people here in Eastern Canada.

It is the right time to do this now when you consider the problems that CAP is facing now as a National organization. We seen the failure of OMAA in 2005 and also the addition of some affiliates in the West that are very questionable.

We are very concerned that the new affiliates in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan still don't get core funding and do not have real membership. This hurts the national organization in terms of credibility as well as reputation and it is not fair for the Eastern PTO's. We should not have to suffer because these groups cannot get their organizations running effectively.

Maybe the time has come to turn away from CAP and to regroup around the east where the affiliates are running very well and have real and successful operations. We have a long and successful history compared to those in the West and we play by the rules. I am worried that if we continue to be a part of a national organization with serious and many debt and governance problems that other PTOs have created we in the East will ultimately be severely affected."

Not only was Lavallee trying to tank CAP when she was one of its provincial affiliates, but according to the Board, she was also the Vice-President of CAP at the time. I wonder if Brazeau was aware he was being stabbed in the back? That letter alone should have prevented her from running for the position as President of CAP given her obvious bias towards tanking it. It should also be at the top of the list for bringing about an immediate vote of non-confidence.

However, the issue that I am most concerned about regarding Lavallee, relates to the lack of voice by the grass roots people. They say that Lavallee NEVER consulted with her membership in NB about writing such a letter or taking such a position. Other members from other affiliates say they were never consulted by her keeping in mind she was the Vice-President at the time. To call for the end of the NBAPC's national organization should have been an agenda item at an AGM, it not a special consultation meeting in and of itself. I would also venture to guess that this should have been an agenda item at CAP's own board meeting.

What also strikes me is the hypocrisy of the letter. As former Vice-President and board member of CAP, it was her job to support the other affiliates and to direct resources towards assisting the other affiliates in obtaining core funding so that they could build capacity. Currently, as the President of CAP, the buck stops with her. If her affiliates are struggling, it is her job as a leader to make assisting those affiliates her number one priority. Instead, Board members report that she takes trips to places like Bolivia or the Olympics instead of taking care of what appears to be urgent business at CAP.

If CAP is failing, Lavallee need only point the finger at one person - herself, seeing as she is the President, Chief AND CEO of CAP.

I am told by members of the Board, that at CAP's recent governance training, the person who conducted the training was surprised that Lavallee was the President, Chief and CEO of CAP. They felt that this was highly unusual and apparently the discussion centred on the fact that it felt like a dictatorship. CAP has apparently mixed both the political side of the house with the administrative side which means that CAP mixes politics and business. I am also told that all employees must report to her and that politics often factors into daily administrative decisions. This might be one of the reasons why there are pending lawsuits against CAP - but I can't say for sure as I don't have copies of those lawsuits.

I am further told by various Board members that the level of dysfunction within CAP has increased ten-fold as Lavallee has been the centre of much in-fighting among the board. I have copies of e-mails and letters from Lavallee and the NBAPC President Kim McKinley which are appear to be particularly targeted at certain affiliates. If you read the above letter, it is no surprise that Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan bear the brunt of Lavallee's scorn.

The hypocrisy continues at the financial level as well. At CAP's last AGM it was reported to the members that CAP was in a major deficit of over $1.2 million dollars. Yet, no debt reduction strategy was presented to the AGM. Some board members of CAP estimate that CAP's deficit may well be close to $2 million dollars at this point. Assuming for a minute that the deficit is "only" $1.2 million, then CAP has a great deal of work to do to get back on track. There is no way to tell for sure, as CAP's website link to its "financial reports" does not contain any information:

http://www.abo-peoples.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=25&Itemid=35

How has CAP done this? Well, aside from Lavallee's trips to Bolivia and the Olympics, the board reports that she also gave herself a salary increase. While she wanted a much bigger increase, she did come away with a significant raise. Similarly, at Christmas time, the Board indicates that she gave herself a nice bonus of $1000 dollars and gave staff members all $500. At the same time, I had former staff contacting me saying they were being laid off due to budgetary issues. Something doesn't add up in CAP's math?

I am sure members of CAP's affiliates will be left wondering how Lavallee could possibly justify her own base salary given her lack of productivity for CAP, let alone salary increases, trips, and bonuses when CAP is in such serious financial troubles.

The Native Council of Canada used to mean something. It was part of the constitutional talks and intervened on many important matters for Aboriginal peoples living off reserve. Its name change to CAP has not brought with it a strong vision for uniting its affiliates across the country, nor has it engaged with the people who need it most - the off-reserve grass roots people. Instead, Lavallee has transported her dysfunctional, anti-CAP form of leadership from NB to Ottawa, and the grass roots people are paying the price.

Based on the information that I have been receiving about its internal dysfunction, I can only guess that CAP is slowly imploding - but not due to a lack of capacity. In fact, some might argue that this sad situation is not fate, but is being actively promoted by its own President - Betty-Ann Lavallee. In December 2010, CAP sent a letter to the Indigenous Peoples Confederacy (CAP's Manitoba affiliate) and said they were no longer in good standing with CAP. It appears as though CAP may be doing the same thing to Saskatchewan and one wonders if OACP is next? Some fear that Lavallee is well on the way to seeing her stated goal to fruition - the end of CAP and the rise of her Eastern Empire.

Lavallee: "the time has come to turn away from CAP and to regroup around the East"

I am not sure what the answer is, but surely it must involve the grass roots shaking the rotten apples from the tree and getting their organization back to where it used to be. I'd be happy to hear any feedback about the information in this blog or whether anyone cares about CAP anymore.

10 comments:

  1. Perhaps Egypt has taught us a lesson?

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  2. I just love your blog - it is so informative, but at the same time - very shocking! Shocking to be able to read someone who cuts through the smoke screen of the politics and will state their opinion. Of course, I also say shocking because of the some of the content and topics that raise the awareness and understanding of issues affecting Indigenous peoples.

    Very sad that pretty much half of the Indigenous peoples in Canada live off-reserve meaning that CAP should be a major force by sheer numbers alone... it is not even a tooth-less tiger - it is a tiger that has resorted to eating it's own tail.

    Why oh why can't CAP be headed by a real leader? Or one that doesn't need a lawyer to sit beside them at a meeting???

    I will not denigrate lawyers because I have many whom I am friends with and respect immensely (like you!) BUT when an elected person on a board needs to start trotting out a lawyer as a sidekick at meetings then this is akin to bringing along some 'muscle' to threaten and intimidate which is very sad.

    I also do get a kick out of it because when most people ask a lawyer a question (I should know after a long-term marriage to one) that they very rarely ever give a straight answer! So even if a lawyer is at a board meeting the chances are that they would not give a straight answer in any event as they presumably must look at both sides and possibly refer to the case law/statutes/consitution of the organization, and ecetera before they can garner an opinion... and lawyers can only offer an opinion and no guarantee on how a judge/court/commission may view the situation/issue in its entirety. This means they really should NOT be anyone a board member or constituent should be fearful of or intimidated.

    I am still scratching my head over CAP and the sad state of affairs of the organization and lack of leadership, but thank you for writing this blog and making people aware of the situation.

    Best,

    Aleta

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  3. Unbelievable, straight-to-the-bone! You should run for CAP president/National Chief, everybody 'west' of Ottawa will vote for you.
    What Betty-Anne and some eastern PTO's forget is that without the west CAP will no longer be a National body and the dollars, budget, admin, programs and policy-making will no longer exist. With the majority of Aboriginal People off-reserve in the west the Government will soon see the need to divert more funds, programs to the west especially if there is an official protest regarding equitable and/or per capita allotment of dollars for Aboriginal Peoples. CAP and the East will lose face and credibility to account for their actions while the west dissolves because of no support. If this comes to be you can be certain PArliament and the Right Honorable Mr. Harper will know.
    No west, no national body, no funds for anybody!
    How can a political National Leader also be a CEO !?

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  4. I never held trust for Mrs Lavallee. There are so few good leadears left. Mr Daniels RIP would not be pleased.
    Larry

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  5. Just a quick note as I do not have much depth of understanding of CAP as the first time it came on my radar screen, it was adversarial. I am a Tsimshian man who lives off reserve and CAP issued a statement that it represented ALL indigenous people who live off reserve. Not being a fan of being excluded from issues and very watchful of those who purport to represent me, I investigated CAP.

    What I found was that Patti Skillen was their senior policy analyst at the time of Brazeau's questionable leadership. For those of you who don't know, Skillen was previously worked as the Senior policy analyst for the Ontario Provincial government during the Ipperwash incident in which a protester, Dudley George was shot and killed by the OPP. The Provincial government was implicated in bearing pressure on the OPP to raid the peaceful protest and a subsequent denial of involvement from the Premier contradicts statements released during the inquiry.

    When I approached Brazeau with the concern that CAP's senior policy analyst was working with the government at the time of Ipperwash, I was blocked from communicating on their public site, as were those who echoed my concerns.

    My trust for CAP is not only shaken, but it is gone. Brazeau and all of CAP's executive are not only tarnished, but could possibly represent the purposeful demise of indigenous political power from our own "leadership." I still have not received any answer concerning leadership selection or how I have endorsed CAP to represent me and I now am convinced that whatever impetus propelled CAP into existence, if it was truly intent on assisting indigenous peoples' strength in political arenas, has since died and a vision of personal benefit, Euro-Western liberal-individualist values has replaced any core of indigeneity. In short, the assimilation of CAP is complete. That is not to say it is irreversable and if people wish to bring it on track, then I am all for it. Make no mistake though, CAP does NOT represent me and will not until I am assured that the organization is something that I can support.

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  6. Great article and very true to what has been happening. With the majority of off reserve Aboriginal people west of Ontario you would think the eastern leaders would want the west included. It would only make them stronger.
    Because Lavallee gets her support from the East I have to wonder if the Eastern leaders are not in the same mind set as her. They better wake up before the whole ship sinks.

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  7. From a western aboriginal perspective: I'm not worried that CAP may be on its last legs. They have never represented us nor taken any affirmative action that has benefitted the grassroots here. In fact, even as ineffective and co-opted as the AFN is, they have still done a better job of forwarding urban an reserve Aboriginal issues.

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  8. Thank you all for your comments and feedback. There are obviously a great deal of people who care very much about the state of affairs for off-reserve Aboriginal people and perhaps this will spark a demand for change.

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  9. Perhaps we should spear-head a petition outlining this fact - that CAP does not represent any of us. If we do this, we should also reach out to those in prisons, as it is clear that prisons are being set up to be the new replacement reserves for our peoples.

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  10. Helllo Pam i always had my douths about Betty-Ann your letter is a great eye openner,i was at the CAP AGA last Oct 2011 went i saw that NBAPC were promoting Carl Dubé for vice-president i nearly fell backward off my chair,now i see the bigger picture.

    Archie Martin

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