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Cowichan Tribes struggles to separate

Cowichan Tribes must do more to separate its political and economic arms, according to a report leaked to the News Leader Pictorial.

Economic Development, Governance and the Cowichan Tribes: A Report with Recommendations was commissioned by Tribes’ chief and council in 2009 and completed in April.

The purpose, the report reads, is to assist Tribes in achieving its economic development goals — with a particular focus on the Khowutzun Development Corporation — and improve its overall governance.

Report authors Neil Sterritt and Stephen Cornell noted Tribes faces “some serious challenges” and has “some serious choices to make,” however, it’s also in an enviable position.

“The Cowichan Tribes are singularly blessed with opportunities. The future is potentially bright. There is work to be done, but the benefits to the nation could be substantial.”

Chief Lydia Hwitsum told the NLP the report was developed through a series of workshops.

Chief and council, senior management, KDC management and community members all took part.

“Cowichan Tribes called for the report to be done so we could get some strategic advice along with a clear assessment and set out some next steps for economic development and governance for Cowichan Tribes,” Hwitsum said on Thursday.

“The result is that we took the series of (23) recommendations and prioritized them, and have taken action on 15 of the prioritized recommendations with the objective of working through the balance of the recommendations.”

Some Tribes members say the contents of the report were not shared with Cowichan citizens, however, Hwitsum said they were presented during community meetings.

“And the reception was good,” Hwitsum added.

The 25-page report does examine some seemingly alarming details.

“The Cowichan Tribes are deeply in debt, to the point that they are threatened with intervention by INAC,” it reads. “Senior staffers wonder, only an almost daily basis, how to pay the bills, make payroll, and keep things on track.”

The report calls for ensuring Cowichan’s independence through a sustainable economic base, provided by KDC.

But it noted since the then-KDC board was made up of individuals who also serve on council or work within Tribes administration, conflicts will inevitably arise.

“At the very least, the fact they form the board makes it difficult, if not impossible, to shield KDC from internal Cowichan politics — the single greatest threat to enterprise success,” the report reads. “Over the years, some crucial business decisions appear to have been made according to political considerations, with negative consequences for KDC.”

The document recommends replacing the current KDC board with members chosen for business experience.

Hwitsum, who has removed herself and Tribes general manager Ernie Eliott as KDC CEOs in the wake of the report’s release, was hardly surprised by its contents.

“Cowichan Tribes is definitely working to address this. We do know we need to build in a stronger (KDC) board, we do know we need to do more division between the political and the economic,” she said. “One of the pieces we’re working on is to address exactly that point. We need to recruit for the board and bring people in who have the type of business expertise we need. We are moving forward to address that.”

Hwitsum cautioned the community from reading too much into some of the criticism dogging Cowichan Tribes after the recent formation of watchdog group, Quw’utsun The yul shun um Mustimuhw.

“The difficult thing, I think, is making sure we continue to get accurate information out,” she said, adding she’s hesitant to make division statements.

“I just wish they would be constructive and collaborative and honest. Then we could all work together, because I am committed to working for Cowichan. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”

Hwitsum says group not shut out

Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum says claims the Quw’utsun The yul shun um Mustimuhw’s speaker was not permitted to speak during Tribes’ December AGM are “completely inaccurate.”

“They were asked for the first part of the report to be done until they asked their questions, like everyone else. There were hundreds and hundreds of Cowichan people in attendance,” Hwitsum said in response to the claim made in Wednesday’s News Leader Pictorial.

“As a matter of fact they were put at the front of the (speaker) list, in front of everyone else. They were the very first people allowed to speak, they asked their questions, and then left. They didn’t even stay and listen to all of the reports and questions, which is a little frustrating because one of the things they’re asking for is more information.”

Hwitsum added chief and council have also met with the group’s members “several times” to address their concerns.

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