Indigenous

NWAC president looking into 'distressing' allegations of toxic workplace

Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) President Francyne Joe said Tuesday that the organization's board would soon discuss allegations from employees who said management was doing little to deal with a toxic work environment that was affecting the mental health of staff.

Open letter called allegations from employees 'offensive' and 'unfounded'

Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, says the board will be discussing allegations from employees about workplace stress. (CBC News)

Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) President Francyne Joe said Tuesday that the organization's board would soon discuss allegations from employees who said management was doing little to deal with a toxic work environment that was affecting the mental health of staff.

"It's distressing," said Joe. "I am looking further into questions raised ... the board will be discussing this."

An open letter tweeted by NWAC Monday in response to a CBC News story based on interviews with five employees who said the organization's workplace was in a state of crisis called the allegations "unfounded, offensive and defamatory."

The five employees, whom CBC News is not identifying due to their concerns that they faced possible termination if their identities were publicized, said the environment inside the organization was so tense that some staff were crying at their desks and in the bathroom.

The open letter from NWAC said "the nature of our work exposes staff to content which can be emotionally tolling, cause stress, or trigger personal ties or lived experiences" and that NWAC takes a "culturally appropriate and trauma informed approach" to all its work and human resources operations.

The letter said that NWAC also has an Elder on hand to offer counselling and advice.

Allegations of a toxic work environment inside NWAC first surfaced publicly in early 2018 when it emerged that the organization's board had received at least five letters since January 2017 raising concerns about the internal dynamics faced by staff.

On Feb. 25, about 25 staff members, nearly half of the 60 employees at NWAC, endorsed an unsigned letter to Joe and John Lymer, the human resources manager, raising concerns the workplace environment was having negative mental health impacts on staff.

"Staff continue to experience toxicity, hostility, stress and stress-related illnesses from an unstable work environment and high turnover rate, and these concerns continue to be dismissed," said the letter.

"The levels of toxicity and fear in the organization are at an all-time high and we have written this letter as a call to the board of directors to intervene — staff are at a point of crisis."

Days earlier, on Feb. 20, Cathy Martin, a senior political advisor, sent her resignation letter to all staff at the organization.

"The experiences I have endured during the past six weeks have left me with disappointment and discontent," wrote Martin.

"Many of the experiences I have witnessed and endured at NWAC, in my opinion, are contradictory to my values."

About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.