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Monday, May 20, 2024
New Native Centre board chosen amid allegations, strife
Dawn Moughtin alleges former board members abused their authority and threatened her and other senior staff members. Evan Loree
Sean Vanderklis argues that the board does not have quorum and is not a legal board. Evan Loree

Members of the Niagara Regional Native Centre elected a new board last week amid allegations from senior staff that former board members had abused their powers.

“We are literally in an abusive relationship,” interim head of staff Dawn Moughtin said at a raucous community meeting held Wednesday, Feb. 8, to fill vacant seats on the board of directors.

“As soon as those doors close they attack us. They threaten us with our jobs,” she said. 

“They looked at me in a board meeting and called me a sidekick. Not a valued member of this staff,” Moughtin said. “That is how they speak to us.”

None of the allegations were substantiated by details or evidence. The centre, on Airport Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake, serves the Indigenous community with a variety of programs and events.

Moughtin also referred to a board meeting at which she said her fellow head of staff, Jessica Riel-Johns, was threatened for speaking up.

Former board members Wanda Griffin, Lacey Lewis, Wendy Wilson and Bobbi Jones-Japp resigned from the board at the meeting so the community could elect new members. 

Former directors Roxanne Buck and Fallon Farinacci were elected to the new board. 

They had both resigned in December after Karl Dockstader resigned from his position as executive director. 

Also newly elected to the board were Audrey Clark, Elaina Jones, Brian Mac Auley and Doug Paget. 

Buck will serve as board president, with Mac Auley as vice and Paget as treasurer.

The vote brought the board back to full legal status, which allows directors to appoint members to vacant positions.

Sean Vanderklis, co-host with Dockstader of the podcast One Dish One Mic on 610 CKTB radio, was appointed by the other board members. But two board seats remain empty.

Some of the people served by the centre’s workers fear what will happen to their support services after seeing the old board members step down.

“I feel like the clients are the ones that are suffering and no one’s listening to us,” Lindsay Morrison, a 12-year client of the centre, told The Lake Report in an interview after the meeting.

After seeing their leaders argue at the meeting, Morrison is worried about sending her kids to programs there.

“What about the clients and the children?” she said.

Morrison said she went to the meeting with a prepared speech and was told by a community member that she would be allowed to speak.

However, she said she was told by Moughtin, “It wasn’t that type of meeting.”

Morrison said she thinks Lewis and the remaining members were set up to fail after the resignations in December.

“How can four board members take on all the weight that they were handed?” she said.

When Lewis first announced the meeting on Facebook on Jan. 10, she said it was to fill vacant seats on the board and amend the bylaws so the board could serve a wider area. 

Vanderklis argued at the time the board did not have a quorum, meaning it was too small to have legal status, and did not have the authority to amend its bylaws.

The centre’s bylaws do, however, permit the board to call a membership meeting and fill vacancies on the board of directors so it can have a quorum. 

Vanderklis also argued that the membership can vote to dismiss the current board and elect new directors under Ontario’s Not-for-profit Corporations Act.

The act states, “The members of a corporation may, by ordinary resolution at a special meeting, remove from office any director or directors.”

The board is required to update its membership list twice a year, but many people who “had done their due diligence” were not considered bona fide members going into the meeting, Vanderklis said.

“There are people in this room who voted at the last annual general meeting who have been denied their membership,” said Vanderklis.

Some of those in the audience were unable to vote because their memberships had not been approved.

Ted Mouradian, a neutral third party who was asked to chair the meeting because of his knowledge of board policy, said the board had to approve all membership applications and couldn’t so long as it was “below quorum.” 

Lewis told the crowd the remaining directors were “seeking to understand” why members couldn’t renew their memberships online.

“Why? It’s 2023,” she said.

At one point, tempers rose and some crowd members began to posture as if they were looking for a fight.

Phil Davis, a community member, singer and drummer, argued that the board had failed to tell the community why three directors had resigned and why Dockstader was walked off the property in December. 

To him, nothing else mattered until that question was answered, he said.

Another person in the audience asked Davis why he was yelling. The question seemed to add fuel to the fire.

Emotions boiled over in the room after Moughtin and Riel-Johns broke into tears.

Women gathered in a circle around the two and began singing and drumming a healing song to support them. 

Moughtin, Lewis and Griffin each spoke in turn after the singing ended.

“You haven’t heard from us. What you have heard from us is out there in social media world,” said Lewis, who was heckled several times as she spoke. 

She said a volunteer board member could be “deemed a risk to the centre” if they do not live in the centre’s area of service.

The Lake Report discovered that one board member was living outside the service area, which appeared to violate the centre’s bylaws.

Amending the bylaws to expand the area of service to Welland would resolve this, Lewis said.

The board members gave no explanation for Dockstader being walked off the property or for the resignations of the former board members before Christmas. 

Griffin, however, alleged she and the board members who had stayed since Christmas had been attacked on social media.

“What’s happened in this community is nothing but lateral violence,” she told the crowd. 

“There is too much freaking pain and it’s not just caused by the women that sit up here,” she added. 

Griffin was interrupted several times and shouted down before she could finish. 

She told the crowd that if they wanted her to step down, “I will not set foot into these halls again.”

Frank Miller, a community elder, intervened when the meeting was at its hottest. 

The room was visibly calmer as he spoke. 

“As original people, we have our own ways,” Miller said.

“We need to each respect each other, stand by each other and do this with a good mind,” he said.

He said the community was there trying to confront its problems in “the language of the colonizer.”

“I hear things like ‘corporation,’ I hear things like ‘minutes,’ ” Miller said. “This sounds like a meeting that originated from another side of the great salt ocean.”

After the new board was elected, Mouradian encouraged people to maintain their memberships and make sure they were in good standing in the future.

“We still have a lot of community building that we need to do,” Vanderklis said in an interview afterward.

He hopes the community can come together for an open mic meeting to discuss some of the allegations that came up last Wednesday, as well as any additional grievances not yet heard.

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