Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Roseau council tosses Nelson as chief again

Ousted leader plans showdown over decision today

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The custom council of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation has ousted Terry Nelson as chief, seven months into his latest term as leader of the troubled Ojibwa First Nation.

This is the third time since 2007 the custom council -- which represents the heads of the families on the First Nation -- has ousted Nelson as chief.

The community's custom council has been at odds with Nelson over control of the First Nation for years and the latest non-confidence vote in his leadership came a week ago. The ousted chief said Monday he expects to confront his opposition today during a previously scheduled community meeting over housing.

"I don't see it as legal and I talked to a lawyer. I could go into court. I won't. I will go to the community and make an announcement. If they want a byelection, that's fine. But I want a chance to run," Nelson said.

Meanwhile, the four-member council elected along with Nelson in March is still recognized as Roseau River's legitimate council.

One councillor Monday refused to discuss the internal conflict and it's unclear who speaks for the custom council.

Nelson said he believes the latest ouster was triggered by a dispute over how to handle at least $1 million set aside for housing from an $80-million federal compensation package paid this summer for an illegal surrender of reserve land in 1903.

Nelson said his platform this time will be to remove the custom council's authority once and for all.

"I will ask the people for a mandate to change our constitution so we don't go through this continually," he said.

Meanwhile, Ottawa confirmed Nelson's ouster.

"On Sept. 21, the department received information from the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation custom council regarding the composition of the First Nation's chief and council and updated its files accordingly, recording the removal of Terrance Nelson as chief," said Ellen Funk of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's office in Winnipeg.

But Ottawa is stepping back from the political fracas, she said.

Much of the band's business isn't in the hands of the chief or the custom council.

It is conducted by an accounting firm that has been the First Nation's third-party manager since March 2009.

Earlier this month, Nelson threatened to close Roseau River's school for kindergarten to Grade 8 students because it lacks the level of funding for programs and services of comparable public schools.

The federal government and an independent aboriginal education organization responded with a pilot program to boost resources and send in extra staff to the school.

It was hailed as the first step toward Roseau River's school soon being run by an outside aboriginal organization, and possibly the beginning of a move to create an independent school division for Manitoba's 55 reserve schools.

However, change is not arriving quickly enough for some parents. One parent at Roseau River threatened to gather community support to sue leadership, Ottawa and the reserve's third-party manager over the First Nation's quality of education, despite the changes made this month.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2011 A5

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