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Jobs lost to accomodate AFN re-structuring
As many as 20 Assembly of First Nations employees will be affected in some way by the planned re-structuring that will be implemented by new National Chief Phil Fontaine's transition team.
Sources say the plan includes reducing the number of directorships in the organization from 14 to seven. That means seven directors, each earning in the $90,000 range, will be let go, demoted or otherwise reassigned.
The transition plan was formulated at an AFN executive meeting in Halifax shortly after Fontaine was elected on July 16. A second executive meeting in Vancouver on Sept. 8 and 9 saw more details added.
The first moves were made on Sept. 10 and 11. Rolland Pangowish, Audrey Mayes, Dan Gaspe and Mike O'Brien were told their services were no longer required. Reports that three other employees have also been terminated could not be confirmed.
Pangowish was the lands and trusts director. He had been with the AFN for 15 years.
Mayes was the associate director of lands, treaties and fisheries. She had been at the AFN for nine years.
Gaspe was director of parliamentary liaison. He was brought on board just over a year ago to co-ordinate the AFN's lobbying efforts against the First Nations' governance legislative package.
O'Brien was the AFN's justice director.
Pangonish sent out an email notice of his dismissal, but refused further comment because he was seeking legal advice about how to respond to his termination.
"After 15 years of service, I am now being released by the new leadership. My understanding is that this was approved by the executive committee. I very [much] appreciate their thoughtful consideration," he said in his email. "I just wanted to convey my appreciation for the honor I have had of working with you all on these issues, which are of great importance to our people. I can only hope that some day we will make real progress toward the recognition of our inherent, treaty and Aboriginal rights. I know the struggle will continue and I hope to see you all again, perhaps on the floor of our national meetings."
Mayes also informed her contacts by email that she had been let go.
"After nine years of service with the AFN, I too have been asked to leave. It has been such a wonderful experience and the most fulfilling job that I have had the honor to do. I will use those talents and experience to advance First Nations' rights, so I guess I'll see you at the 'meetins,'" she wrote in an email acquired by Windspeaker.
Gaspe emailed his contacts as well.
"I have been asked to leave the employ of the AFN after one year of dedicated service. I am proud and honored to have been given the opportunity, as I did years ago, to serve the First Nations at the AFN as director of parliamentary liaison. I logged many long hours on Parliament Hill developing relations, preparing strategy, accompanying chiefs, and helping them to communicate their messages regarding the bills that are still before parliament all with the goal of protecting and enhancing our inherent, Aboriginal and treaty rights. We put forward a professional and impressive image and we were effective," he wrote.
O'Brien confirmed that he had been let go, but refused comment.
A well-placed AFN source expressed concern that the fight for rights appears to have been abandoned.
"The whole treaty unit has been wiped out," the source said.
And if the terminations aren't enough to raise eyebrows, the hirings have.
Technicians across the country are witnessing the exodus of employees who worked in rights-based areas and an influx of people with some connection to the federal government, and are wondering if the AFN hasn't come to stand for the "Assembly For Nault," a phrase that's being bandied about in Indian Country.
Manny Jules, still listed on the organization's Web site as chairman of the Indian Taxation Advisory Board, a group that operates under a memorandum of understanding with the minister of Indian Affairs, has been hired at the AFN as chief ofstaff.
Rumors persist, although denied by Manny Jules, that Scott Serson, a former deputy minister of Indian Affairs, has also or will soon join the ranks of AFN employees.
The national chief's own press secretary, Nancy Pine, was Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault's press secretary. Ajay Chopra, a former employee in the department of justice, is serving as AFN intergovernmental affairs advisor. He is also the son of a prominent leadership bid campaign organizer for Paul Martin in Manitoba.
Fontaine supporters defend the moves, saying three years of inactivity on all the other fronts aside from rights has left First Nation communities in desperate straits. Looking after such basic issues as health, housing and education is not an abandonment of the fight for rights but a simple change in direction.
With clearly defined political divisions within the assembly membership beginning to form, most issues are becoming politicized and that distracts from the big picture, Jules told Windspeaker.
Fontaine's political opponents are criticizing information contained in a leaked AFN memo which reveals that the budget for the transition plan is $885,000. About $250,000 of that has been set aside to cover severance packages.
The memo also states that the national chief's office will have 18 staff members. That's almost twice the size of former national chief Matthew Coon Come's staff. It will be composed of four regional political advisors and advisors in policy, legal, economic development, international, social, spiritual, and alternative dispute resolution, a political strategist, a parliamentary liaison, and a communications assistant. That's in addition to the chief of staff, associates to the chief of staff, an executive assistant and a scheduling assistant.
Six Nations Chief Roberta Jamieson finished second to Fontaine in the July runoff for national chief. She criticized the staff moves.
"I'm really disappointed that some of the very best people at AFN have bee released. Does it cause me concern? Absolutely, because I think the AFN needs to reflect the people. There needs to be a staff there that's going to be able to serve all First Nations, not just the executive or the national chief. It's way too political the way that this was handled. It seems to have been done to build kind of a Fontaine machine," she said.
The loss of Gaspe, who has a lot of experience in the ways of parliament, is seen by Jamieson as a move designed to frustrate the fight against the minister's governance package.
"One day he's there and the next day he's gone precisely at the time when the bills are reaching a high level of activity. Lots of First Nations relied on this parliamentary liaison, command and control, whatever you call it. And nothing's being offered at a very critical time," she said.
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