Sunday, February 05, 2006

Workplace Bullying and Harassment......The Norm In Native Communities?

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Beauty and ugliness are everywhere - even in some of the same things. To some a wide open prairie is empty and colorless - but to others it is uncluttered simplicity - the way life itself ought to look.

Physical appeal is high on some lists, but nu tso se dv na, which is cherokee comfort, lasts longer. Whatever is in our hearts is in our sight. To love something or someone makes us see the beauty of it - not the wrong.

It is to our advantage to be gentle in our observations - to see and cultivate the best in who we are and in those around us.

We love quiet; we suffer the mouse to play; when the woods are rustled by the wind, we fear not.......

Indian Chief 1796

We have all heard the stories if we live in a Native Community: stories of corruption, low wages, employees being treated as if they are less than people. The standard unwritten rule: talk about any of it and you will be fired. If you publicize it in any way the leaders of these communities will stop at nothing to ensure that the reasons they fired you were nothing short of being your fault. They will make things up saying things like "they were fired for stealing" or "they didn't know how to do their job" and "this is their way of getting back at us for firing them" but they are lying. They do not stop until both you and your good name have been destroyed.

Often times workplace bullying and harassment is the key event that triggers the reporting of such crimes, only because losing ones job, when one has a family to support is not often an option when jobs are so hard to come by.

Often the person in this situation feels all alone and isolated, and helpless to do anything about such a conspiracy, against leaders that are most often believed over the person that is reporting a crime or some other wrong doing that has taken place while in the employ of the on-reserve government.

We need to stand up and take notice that people in Native communities are being driven to almost desperation because they choose to stand up for what is right and just within their workplaces, often with tragic results for the person that chose to do the right thing, and with no justice or recourse.

My Story:

I know very well from personal experience what happens in these situations because I was the target of bullying and harassment in the workplace at our Band Administration Office for 4 years. I went everwhere trying to get help and reported it to our Band Council who in turn repaid me by doing the same thing....why because I talked about it and they did nothing. What they did do is believe the manager that said I was the one harassing her and never bothered to interview any of the other employees or investigate, because if they would have they would have found out that almost every employee in that building knew what was going on.

I was the subject of the Office Managers abuse, whom it seems could not tolerate another woman in the office that had brains or anything to contribute in a positive manner. I was one of five ladies that was targetted for her rumors, lies, and the discrediting of my work and that was just the beginning. The things that were done to me are unspeakable and yet I refused to let them win by quitting. Why would I when I had done nothing wrong, I was great at my job in the Economic Development Department, I was well liked by the staff and the community and I enjoyed what I did. What I did not enjoy was coming into a poisened work enviroment everday with no support, solution or mechanisms to solve the problem.

Ultimately they ended up hiring a new director whose main role was to harass me into quitting, but I was too stubborn and when they could not make me quit I started to receive daily reprimands.

What did I do to deserve all this you may be asking yourself?

Nothing accept do my job in the beginning and then near the end:

1. I went to a Council meeting on behalf of my cousin whom they were going to fire for telling her boyfriend that she was assaulted physically at work...the kicker was it was at a shelter for abused woman and she was assaulted by another employee that happened to be the Chief's niece. They wanted to fire her for breach of confidentiality and I spoke on her behalf.

2. I was put in a position where I ended up exposing a situation involving sexual harassment that involved at least three councillors and a junior staff member. Later I was told I was set up but who knows. I only tried to do the right thing and not be closed mouth like the rest of the office about the things that were wrong.

3. I ended up, knowing I was gonna be fired by this time, exposing 2 frauds that had occurred in my department and that I subsequently witnessed involving my fomer boss, the whole upper administration and all of the Council at the time....totalling almost 100,000.00

What Happened?

1. I ended up being suspended for 3 days for refusing to put in false paperwork claiming that work had been performed that wasn't.

2. I held a press conference to inform people of what was happening citing the incidents that has taken place without mentioning names. This was part of the reason they used to fire me. Then they threatened to sue the press if any of it was published or shown on t.v.

3. I was given whats called a Proceduaral Fairnes hearing with 3 out of 4 councillors being in a conflict of interest position: there was eight of them including their lawyer, I could not afford the $1000.00 for the day that it would have cost me to have representation. I was allowed no one in the hearing as a support person unless that person was going to speak on my behalf.

4. I was fired, which I already knew would be the outcome, and escorted from the building like a common criminal and not allowed to take my personal belongings from my office.

5. I left with $800.00 in vacation pay and that was it.

6. I searched high and low for a lawyer but could not afford one and therefore to this day have never received any justice.

7. I put in a formal complaint to the Department of Indian Affairs, but was told they do not get involved in work place matters. After they faxed the Chief my complaint that was meant for them and not for Council and of course the Council denied it all.

8. I went to the Ontario Provincial Police with all the proof they needed to lay fraud charges and spent alot of my time laying out the case for them about what had taken place, one of which involved phony contracts for work never performed and money being hid in a contractors personal account amounting to 50,000.00. There was not a word I was saying that could not be backed up by a document to verify it and it was their own documents that held the proof. The second fraud involved a contract which required a new building be built with government funds and the Council chose to renovate an old Quonset Hut rather than build a new building, after being told several times that this was not conduscive to the already signed contract, they went ahead anyway. This was the paperwork that I refused to do showing that a new building was built, when I was suspended. The supervisor that was hired to harass me had another employee do the paperwork and he signed it off, this gentleman was a former lawyer and now works for the Department of Justice of all places. The total of this fraud amounted to approximately $50,000.00 as well.

9. They told me that it was obvious that the whole council and upper administration was involved and seemed more worried about politics than laying any charges and ultimately thats what happened....nothing.

10. About those files the Band Council tried to have me, with the help of the police charged with stolen files. They were more interested in charging me with missing files then they were in a $100,000.00 fraud.

11. They also went after my family firing my father a month later, who had been a Police Officer for 20 years, and Chief of Police for 7 years ( he happened to be investigating the fraud at the time) and attempted to have my mother set up and fired from the community owned corporation she works for.

This is a fraction of the things that happened over the 5 years I was employed with the Band Administration Office, but probably some of the most important.

Oh and did I mention that at the time I was a single mother and I still am to this day.

When I reviewed my workplace file I found dozens of letters and memos from the Office Manager accusing me of things that I had never done, I also had never received a copy of these memos to be able to dispute them. I was still having things placed on my file one year afterI had ceased to work for the Band Administration Office.

With the rise of workplace violence, Native communites are almost sure to be next in line as they are prime breeding grounds for this type of violence. Bullying and harassment can occurr on a daily basis and there are very few if any mechanisms in place to address these issues. If you are not be sexually harassed or being discriminated against in some way then there is little you can do about this psychological violence.


Violence is the use of force or power by the perpetrator (the person doing the violence) against another, i.e. the victim. This use of force or power is made up of a range of behaviours or actions that may be physical (affecting the body) and/or psychological (affecting the mind). The result of this force or power may impact on the well being or health of the victim; for example, injury, death psychological harm, mal-development, or deprivation for the victim.

Profile of a Bully

Adult bullies, like their schoolyard counterparts, tend to be insecure people with poor or non-existent social skills and little empathy. They turn this insecurity outwards, finding satisfaction in their ability to attack and diminish the capable people around them.

A workplace bully subjects the target to unjustified criticism and trivial fault-finding. In addition, he or she humiliates the target, especially in front of others, and ignores, overrules, isolates and excludes the target.

If the bully is the target's superior, he or she may: set the target up for failure by setting unrealistic goals or deadlines, or denying necessary information and resources; either overload the target with work or take all work away (sometimes replacing proper work with demeaning jobs); or increase responsibility while removing authority.

Regardless of specific tactics, the intimidation is driven by the bully's need to control others.


Overt violence and aggression includes verbal and emotional abuse or threats and physical attacks to an individual or to property by another individual or group. Covert, or hidden violence is also a form of bullying in the workplace. Covert bullying is not in the form of physical attack but also causes emotional damage to the worker. The impact of violence on a victim depends on the severity of the violence, his or her personal experiences, skills and personality.

Violent (overt) Acts Include:

1. Verbal abuse in person or over the telephone, Physical or sexual assault.

2. Written abuse

3. Threats, Ganging up, bullying and intimidation.

4. Malicious damage to the property of staff, customers or the business.

Covert Acts Include:

1. Repeated refusal of ongoing education/Training.

2. Withholding important information needed to complete a job.

3. Continual allocation of low grade or inappropriate work (inequity).

4. Repeated sporadic rostering.


No one works at their best if they feel hurt, angry, vulnerable and powerless. Bullying can have a variety of physical and psychological effects on people. Commonly reported effects are:

1. Stress, anxiety and tension.

2. Feelings of social isolation at work.

3. Loss of confidence and self esteem.

4. Loss or deterioration of personal relationships.

5. Headaches, backaches, stomach cramps, depression.

6. Deterioration of work performance.


The effects of bullying can be psychological and financial and include:

1. Anti social behaviour, impact on family/relationships.

2. Stress-related illnesses and headaches

3. Anxiety, depression; self blame.

4. Stomach disorders and skin rashes.

5. Disempowerment

6. Lethargy and sleep disturbance.

7. Anger; irritability.

8. Loss of concentration.

9. Loss of self esteem, lowered self confidence.

10. Loss of income; loss of potential income.

11. Panic attacks

12. Reluctance to go to work.

13. Uncertainty of self.

14. Actively seeking other positions.

15. Post traumatic stress disorder.

16. Pressure to take jobs below his/her capacity.

This is just one example of what goes on in the work-place in Native communities, the stories are endless although you will rarely see them published because of the fear and intimidation. A huge one is the threat to sue, but I say you can't be sued for telling the truth.

Unfortunately Canada has no laws to deal with this kind of violence in the work-place, laws such as whistle blowing and bullying and mental harassment need to be addressed and included to protect all workers that are vulnerable to this kind of abuse.

The U.S. has state a Federal Laws which protect whistle blowers in a ceratain capacity, but thats not good enough. Also there is an awareness campaign regarding workplace bullying and harassment takign place in the U.S. and workplaces are starting to recognize the detrimental effects of this kind of violence.

Fight Workplace Violence Now! Break The Silence!


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