A Manitoba child welfare agency serving some of the poorest First Nations in the country is in “chaos” following the political intervention of chiefs who forced the temporary suspension of its executive director, according to an internal source.
The source, who is not authorized to speak publicly, said there is growing concern the actions by the four chiefs of the Island Lake Tribal Council to temporarily push aside the Island Lake First Nations Family Services agency’s executive director, Brenda Wood, has put children at risk.
“I knock on wood every day so nothing happens. And if something happens, who is it on?” said the source. “Is it on us and our negligence?”
In mid-February, three of the four Island Lake Tribal Council Chiefs—Garden Hill First Nation Chief Dino Flett, Red Sucker Lake Chief Sam Knott, and St. Theresa Point Chief David McDougall—sent a letter to the Island Lake Family Services board directing them to place Wood on temporary paid leave and complete a report on her “management style.” Tribal Council Chair and Wasagamack Chief Alex McDougall did not sign the letter but supported the move.
The board, which is appointed by the chief and council of each of the four communities, immediately complied despite supporting Wood’s efforts to reform the agency. Wood was put on temporary leave and the board took over management of the agency.
Now the agency is in complete turmoil, according to the source.
“It is really chaotic over there right now and it has been ever since (Wood) left,” said the source. “There is a lot of confusion, a lack of direction.”
Wood only became executive director of the agency in 2015 and faced a monumental challenge. The agency, which serves a region afflicted by the legacy of residential schools and deep poverty, has repeatedly been found by provincial and federal reviews of failing to provide a proper standard of child welfare care.
“She inherited a big mess,” said the source. “I have seen how this place was run before, when everybody did what they wanted. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of accountability…. This is why the new executive director does what she does. She understands the severity. People need to pull up their boots straps or get out of the way and let somebody else who is willing to do their jobs, do their jobs.”
The agency is overseen by the First Nations of Manitoba Child and Family Services Authority—also known as the Northern Authority which said last week it was monitoring the situation.
A spokesperson for the Northern Agency said there were ongoing and direct consultations with the Island Lake First Nations Family Services agency. The spokesperson said a development on those consultations could be announced within days.
The source said the chiefs moved against Wood because her efforts to reform the agency led to the termination of several people, including two who were politically connected. The source said Wood had also not been given the opportunity to defend herself against the allegations related to her management style.
“There is a real witch hunt out there for her, they just want her gone,” said the source. “The real unfortunate thing about this too is that she never had the opportunity to communicate any of this.”
Wood was trying to slowly reform the agency, said the source. One of her main accomplishments since taking on the job was increasing special needs assessments for children at risk in the four communities—the agency also has a sub-office in Winnipeg.
“In the north, almost no kids had special needs assessments and those assessments were not getting done,” said the source. “Just before she was placed on leave, there was actually a person put there to specifically do special needs assessment.”
Wood was also trying to create a program to put parents and their children out on the land to do traditional activities and bond. She also assigned an employee to work specifically on the project.
“I know she was really pushing hard to have this up and going quickly—not in 10 years—she wanted this done properly and she wanted it done quickly,” said the source. “I think the overall picture is children and their parents would go there, there would be workers there. For example, it’s a good opportunity for a father and his children to bond…. A lot would be about re-exploring the role of family members. I think that has been really lost, one of the effects of colonization.”
'An absolute embarrassment': Cindy Blackstock on Canada's treatment of First Nations kids https://t.co/jS1YkRevig via @Chatelaine
— Chris Benjamin (@benjaminwrites) March 27, 2017