Troubled and broke, B.C. native society closing its doors
By ROD MICKLEBURGH
Saturday, April 30, 2005 Page A7
VANCOUVER -- Bereft of cash and laden with scandal, the troubled United Native Nations Society is laying off its 15 full-time staff and closing down.
Acting executive director Leonard Laboucan said yesterday that the government-funded organization, which provides services for more than 90,000 off-reserve aboriginals, simply has no more money available to continue normal operations.
"We've got so many outstanding bills," he said, "we're into an overdraft of an overdraft. For a long time, we've been borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Well, Peter is running out."
Mr. Laboucan blamed the federal Department of Canadian Heritage for the crisis, accusing the ministry of continuing to withhold more than $220,000 in core funding from UNN that was to have been paid out last year.
"Those funds have still not flown and we are out of money, so we are going to have to close our doors."
The UNN is the subject of two audits, one by the provincial government, over alleged financial irregularities while former president George HoLem and vice-president Wayne Clark were at the helm.
Both men were fired last month by UNN directors. They are challenging their dismissals in court, claiming they have done nothing wrong.
Another investigation is taking place into charges that several UNN board members used a hotel room at the Chateau Granville, paid for by the organization, to procure underage girls for sex.
Mr. Laboucan said the new interim leaders of the UNN have done all they can to steer the society straight again, and the pending final audit report is no reason for federal heritage funds to be kept back.
"I care for this organization," he said. "I've been working 12 to 13 hours a day to keep it going. We've done everything they've asked us to do. We're probably the most audited aboriginal organization in B.C."
But UNN staff are now being told not to show up for work on Monday.
"It's hard to face them," Mr. Laboucan said. "They've got bills to pay and families to support. I guess we're just like crumbs, compared to the $250-million sponsorship scandal."
He said he will continue to provide some sort of skeleton service and finish a number of reports on the UNN's dire situation.
"Everything can be traced back to the former president and vice-president," he said. "They've put this organization in really rough waters.
"But UNN is bigger than one or two people [Mr. HoLem and Mr. Clark]. Yet we're all getting trampled on. It seems we're being kicked when we're down."
The UNN began operations in 1983, taking over duties previously handled by the B.C. Association of Non-Status Indians.
The province provides an annual grant of $100,000, while Heritage Canada usually contributes close to $400,000 a year.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]