The chair of the Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation’s board has been removed, though the reasons for her departure from the role remain unclear.
After a year on the board, chair Morven MacPherson says she was told last Wednesday that the Chief’s Executive Council had decided to terminate her involvement.
MacPherson said she was informed by email from Laura Duncan, the Tłı̨chǫ Government’s executive officer. Cabin Radio has not seen the email.
The Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation is the Tłı̨chǫ Government’s economic development arm, owning 22 companies and forming part of several joint ventures.
Board members are appointed by the Chief’s Executive Council for three-year terms, which can be extended by an additional term.
MacPherson believes she was replaced by former Tłı̨chǫ grand chief Eddie Erasmus, though this was not confirmed by the Tłı̨chǫ Government. No other board members were removed.
MacPherson said she first realized she had been removed when she began receiving calls about it, describing her distress at the lack of a courtesy phone call or advance warning. She said Duncan’s email arrived to a personal address she checks only after work.
However, MacPherson told Cabin Radio her removal was not a complete surprise.
“I wasn’t as upset as I could have been because I already knew that some of the chiefs really didn’t like me,” she said. “I was already made aware that those chiefs wanted me off the board.”
In a statement, the Tłı̨chǫ Government said the Chief’s Executive Council – the grand chief and four community chiefs – regularly reviews appointments and “from time to time” makes new appointments.
“Broadly speaking, the rationale underpinning all director appointments is to advance the mission of the Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation,” the statement read. “More specific details regarding the appointment or removal of a director are confidential and it would be inappropriate for Tłı̨chǫ Government to comment on Morven MacPherson’s departure.”
‘Trying to improve’ corporation’s finances
Fellow board member Ted Blondin expressed concern at MacPherson’s removal, saying he had not heard of the decision in advance and only found out from MacPherson. Blondin said the board had made progress in the past year, putting in place policies and dealing with debt recovery.
“We were able to sell our trucking company so that we can get to deal with some of the larger debts. So we’re making progress and all of a sudden, this happens,” he said.
The investment corporation’s economic issues were most recently apparent when trucking companies it owned filed for creditor protection in December. The companies posted losses of $18 million in 2018-19 alone.
The investment corporation said in December it had sunk $37.6 million into the four companies over the years to keep them afloat. The decision to close the companies was said to affect 40 employees, alongside freelance owner-operators associated with the companies’ operations.
Morven MacPherson in a photo on the Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation’s website.
MacPherson said she had been trying to drive change at the investment corporation – change she said Tłı̨chǫ citizens had requested.
“We were trying to improve the organization, make it better,” she said. “And so for me, being removed from that board when I was part of that important work, I’m really sad for the people of the Tłı̨chǫ nation.”
One resident, Doreen Arrowmaker, said she was unhappy to hear the board would lose MacPherson’s “integrity.”
“I wasn’t happy with it,” said Arrowmaker, who made clear she was speaking as a concerned Tłı̨chǫ citizen and not on behalf of any organization. “I know every decision that she has made thus far … her focus has always been the vulnerable Tłı̨chǫ citizens.
“I’d like to see fairness and equality, a transparent process. To come up with a plan to remove the chairperson, a highly educated woman for that matter, who has a strong background in business … I think it’s an unwise move.”
‘They go and remove the only lady’
Why she was removed remains unclear to MacPherson, who said she couldn’t think of any reason.
“I didn’t do anything that I wasn’t supposed to do, as far as I’m aware, and any decision I made was done with my other board members. I didn’t go ahead and do anything on my own,” she said.
MacPherson said some people didn’t like her motivations for joining the board, which she made clear on her appointment.
“When I got on that board, I made it very clear that I was not sitting on that board for myself, I was not sitting on that board for my family, and I was not sitting on that board for my friend,” she said. (In the past, the Tłı̨chǫ Investment Corporation has been accused of running some companies like “personal fiefdoms” for chiefs and their friends and relatives.)
“I made it very clear that I was there to represent all Tłı̨chǫ shareholders, which is every single Tłı̨chǫ citizen,” said MacPherson.
Blondin said he was not aware of any reason why MacPherson was removed. She has held roles in the Tłı̨chǫ Government and is currently Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty’s constituency assistant in Yellowknife.
The only female member on the investment corporation’s board, MacPherson said she had been in touch with several women since news of her removal.
“The ladies are upset because I was one lady on a board of six,” she said. “All the chiefs are men. So they go and remove the only lady that was on the board, an educated lady.”
Arrowmaker said many educated women find it difficult working and sharing their skills in a patriarchal system.
“It’s almost as if we have to jump through many hoops to prove ourselves to be worthy,” said Arrowmaker.
“It’s such an unfair system that we have. Inequality is so great.”