Native Group Mired In DebtAboriginal Council's Federal Funding Cut Off - Owes More Than $14,000 In Taxes
By Carol Sanders
Winnipeg Free Press
Monday November 20, 2006
HE non-profit organization set up to look out for the interests of Winnipeg's native community is mired in debt and controversy, and divided over who best represents the interests of the city's aboriginals.
The Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg has had its federal funding cut off, is thousands of dollars in debt, owes more than $14,000 in federal taxes and penalties and has maxed out its $20,000-plus line of credit, says newly-elected board member Wayne Helgason. He is a former Council President who served until 2003.
"At this moment, we couldn't spend a dime," Helgason said. He contacted the Free Press to say the Council is in a financial mess, and he blames the most immediate past-president, Larry Wucherer.
The two men represent two factions that vied for control of the Council in an election in September.
Wucherer lost and says he's being made the scapegoat. He says Marileen Bartlett - who supported Helgason's slate - was the Council's Treasurer and was responsible for the finances.
Bartlett, who was elected to the Council in December 2005, says that Wucherer had total control of the Council's finances and wouldn't share information or account for spending.
Bartlett said the Council receives $200,000 in government funding a year - $100,000 from provincial Aboriginal and Northern Affairs and $100,000 from the Canada Privy Council-Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians.
Bartlett is also the Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD), of which Helgason is an appointed Board Member. The Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg and CAHRD are housed at the Aboriginal Centre campus at Main Street and Higgins Avenue.
Critics of the winning slate complain that Helgason, Bartlett and other groups running programs out of the Aboriginal Centre have controlled the bulk of government funding for urban aboriginal projects without seeking adequate input from the rest of Winnipeg's native organizations.
"The Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg could be a very important tool for aboriginal people, especially since there's such an influx of families coming to the city," said Dilly Knol, Executive Director of the Andrews Street Family Centre. She ran in September's Council election for a Director's seat because she didn't feel the Aboriginal Council was representing many urban aboriginal people, including families the Andrews Street Centre is trying to help in the North End. She's not alone.
"The ACW claims to represent 7,000 members," said Community Development Worker Diane Roussin, a registered member of the Aboriginal Council. "You gotta be kidding me. What are (they) doing to involve those members?" She said people throughout the aboriginal community are questioning what the Council does. Many wonder if organizations working outside of the Main and Higgins campus benefit from any of the government funding the Council has secured on the basis that it is the voice of Winnipeg's aboriginal people.
Like Knol, Roussin ran for the Council and lost in the September election that was rife with complaints about voters -- mostly adult students attending classes at the Aboriginal Centre - being improperly influenced.
Of more than 52,000 aboriginal Winnipeggers identified in the 2001 Census, 7,000 were eligible to vote in the election held at the Aboriginal Centre campus. Close to 800 cast ballots. After the election, a General Assembly of the Aboriginal Council voted to hold a new election, but Helgason and Chartrand applied to court to uphold the outcome. The court ruled the election result was technically valid, but did not address the allegations of voter influence.
Wucherer, Knol, Roussin and others wrote letters asking the province and the federal government to look into the use of public money in the election campaign.
Provincial Minister of Advanced Education and Training Diane McGifford has asked for a review of the matter, she said in a letter to Wucherer.
The newly elected president of the Aboriginal Council said he doesn't think there is any acrimony in the urban aboriginal community.
"I've had a lot of positive feedback from people," said Lionel Chartrand, whose full-time job is as a criminal lawyer for Legal Aid. He said people want the Council to get on with the business of advocating for aboriginal people.
He said Wucherer "and his followers" don't have the broad community support they claim to have. Chartrand said Wucherer is trying to create the "illusion" the community is divided.
It's no illusion, said Roussin. Members of the aboriginal community are meeting at Circle of Life Thunder Bird House on Saturday, Nov. 25, to discuss urban aboriginal issues, especially leadership, representation, accountability, fairness, openness and future directions.
She said Wucherer broke from tradition and reached out to the rest of the urban aboriginal community outside the campus at Higgins and Main, and that's why people were supporting email@example.com