The Assembly of First Nations threat to suspend its regional chief, Morley Googoo, over multiple allegations that he bullied, discriminated against and harassed his female Mi’kmaq colleagues is long overdue, says one of his accusers.
“This was ongoing for years,” said Cheryl Maloney, claiming she resigned as president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association due to the ongoing bullying she experienced at the hands of Googoo.
“I’m surprised that anyone is addressing it. I guess because of the media coverage people have to address it now.”
The assembly served Googoo a notice of suspension on Monday in response to a 2018 report of his alleged abusive behaviour against members of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association and other Mi’kmaq women.
The letter, signed by national Chief Perry Bellegarde, gives Googoo 20 days notice of the proposed suspension. Googoo has until Aug. 12 to respond with written submissions to the assembly’s chief executive officer.
The assembly’s move to discipline Googoo stems from findings from an independent report commissioned by the Tripartite Forum, a federal, provincial and Mi’kmaq government organization. The investigation started after Maloney filed a complaint against Googoo with the forum while she was still president of Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association.
The report showed, among other things, that Googoo attempted to eliminate Maloney’s position and remove the women’s association from the Tripartite Forum. It also stated that Googoo acted in an aggressive and intimidating manner toward women in the organization, causing some of them to fear for their jobs.
Maloney, a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, supported the assembly’s move, but said Googoo should be suspended from all his duties immediately, especially those dealing with youth.
She said members of the forum had a draft copy of the report last August but did not move to discipline Googoo.
“It has been disheartening for me as a leader to see this happening at the highest level in the land. It’s all about the imbalance of power. The higher you are, the harder it is for anything to touch you.
“It’s a very serious matter that should not happen in any workplace in this country. (Googoo) tried to remove the association from the funding formula, removing a voice for vulnerable women.”
Premier Stephen McNeil, who in his role as the province’s minister of aboriginal affairs is an executive member of the Tripartite Forum. The premier’s spokesman, David Jackson, said McNeil was aware of the claims once the allegations were made to the forum, and “that Nova Scotia worked with Mi’kmaq and federal partners to ensure the claims were appropriately investigated by an independent third party.”
Googoo had resigned as the forum’s executive chair prior to the completion of the report. Any discipline would be the responsibility of his employer, said Jackson.
But Maloney said issues of gender discrimination and harassment are systemic at the highest level of Indigenous governance. Federal and provincial governments as well as Indigenous governments need to look at how they’re responding to it, she said.
She also said both the federal and provincial governments should have responded more quickly to the accusations against Googoo because he was acting on their behalf in his role as executive chair.
“Morley wasn’t just acting on behalf of the chiefs or the (assembly) or the Mi’kmaq. He was a representative of the federal and provincial government and the chiefs. He was appointed the executive chair to act on their behalf in this organizational structure.
“He was representing the minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development and the premier of Nova Scotia. They let it go for years. They let it go through the investigation process. They didn’t suspend him then.”
The Assembly of First Nations executive committee, the National Indian Brotherhood board, voted on the proposed suspension on Sunday, says the letter. It cites the National Indian Brotherhood bylaw No.1, giving the board authority “to suspend or expel any member from the corporation for carrying out any conduct which may be detrimental to the corporation as determined by the board in its sole discretion.”
The letter says the decision is in response to allegations of harassment “by yourself towards women in your region. ... The Assembly of First Nations is committed to ensuring a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination.”
Googoo has denied the findings in the report. He could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The letter states that if Googoo doesn’t respond with a written submission, the National Indian Brotherhood board will proceed with its deliberations respecting the proposed suspension.