Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Hostile takeover' of CFS watchdog alleged

Suit says leaders grabbing control

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Aboriginal leaders are attempting a hostile takeover of a Child and Family Services watchdog as part of a "brazenly political agenda" to give them more control over CFS agencies, a court document alleges.

The Southern First Nations Network of Care (Southern Authority) has filed a lawsuit to block the appointment of five Manitoba chiefs to its board of directors.

The board currently has only three members.

In an affidavit filed in Court of Queen's Bench this week, Southern Authority chief executive officer Elsie Flette suggests the appointments were political payback for her organization's past decisions.

She said she is concerned that the chiefs would force the authority to curtail performance reviews of the 10 aboriginal CFS agencies under its watch.

"A hostile takeover of the Southern Authority board to advance a brazenly political agenda is not in the public interest," Flette said.

Under Manitoba law, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has the authority to appoint members to the authority's board. Traditionally, the AMC approved people nominated by CFS agencies and vetted by the Southern Authority.

But last spring, the AMC balked at appointing a nominee from West Region Child and Family Services to fill a board vacancy. Last fall, it nominated five of its own members -- contravening a Southern Authority bylaw that chiefs and band councillors cannot sit on the board.

As part of her affidavit, Flette submitted a copy of the thick report her organization prepared on the operations of Southeast Child and Family Services. The review was launched following the tragic 2005 death of Tracia Owen, 14, who hanged herself while in Southeast care. The report criticized the board -- which at the time consisted of nine chiefs -- for its lack of oversight.

Flette also submitted letters and other documents showing aboriginal leaders were angry that the Southern Authority appointed an administrator in 2008 to act in place of the Southeast CFS management and board. That administrator is still in charge, much to the chagrin of southern chiefs.

One of the chiefs the AMC named to the Southern Authority board last fall -- Deborah Chief of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation -- is a former director of Southeast CFS. Flette said it is an "irreconcilable conflict of interest" that Chief be named to the board of the Southern Authority.

The other four chiefs appointed by the assembly were: Glenn Hudson of Peguis First Nation, Garnet Woodhouse of Fairford First Nation, Derek Nepinak of Pine Creek First Nation and Donavan Fontaine of Sagkeeng First Nation.

Since being named by the AMC, the five chiefs have not been allowed to participate in Southern Authority meetings.

Lawyers for the chiefs and the AMC could not be reached for comment.

In the past, they've argued that the legal authority allowing the AMC to appoint directors to the Southern Authority board supersedes the authority's internal rules prohibiting chiefs and band councillors from holding the position.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2011 A5

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