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Referendum called in Roseau River to shape new election

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Ottawa has set aside the government at Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, where banks froze millions of dollars in accounts after the election of rival chiefs last fall.

The federal government stepped in before Christmas, when it became apparent that the government there was at a stalemate.

Now Ottawa has ordered a new vote, on Feb. 16, but they won’t be voting on a new chief just yet.

Registered voters will make their way to the polls to cast a ballot on how to elect their next government in a formal referendum as set up in the Indian Act.

The referendum question asks: "Are you in favour of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation remaining under their current custom election code or reverting to section 74 of the Indian Act to carry out Band election procedures," a notice from the regional office in Winnipeg said Friday.

In effect, the question asks if the First Nation wants to scrap the current custom council system of government, in favour of an Indian Act election code.

The two chiefs, Ken Henry and Terry Nelson, are split over the move. Nelson urged Ottawa to take the step. Henry said earlier he opposed it.

The vote is open to 1,490 eligible voters over age 18.

There are two community band meetings in the lead-up to the referendum: Jan. 19 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Niichi Gaming Centre at Roseau and Jan. 24 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Place Louis Riel, 190 Smith St., in the Crocus Room.

The chronology for the bizarre power struggle saw the custom council overturn an election in March and oust Terry Nelson as chief.

Then custom council called another vote and Winnipeg-based accountant Ken Henry was elected as chief in October.

The First Nation custom council has the authority to set election dates and remove chiefs from office and it’s taken its case to court and won in a bitter and protracted court battle but the community has been polarized for years by rival power factions over Nelson’s role as chief.

It all come to a head this fall when the community ended up with two chiefs and no government. Ottawa then stepped in to mediate a settlement to get a stable council in place.

Observers say infighting escalated this fall because that’s when the First Nation took possession of an $80-million settlement to compensate for lands stolen a century ago.

Some $8 million, now frozen in bank accounts, is the focus of the current tussle for power, including a $6-million line of credit with $2 million in interest earned in 2011.

History

Updated on Friday, January 13, 2012 at 1:00 PM CST: corrects typo

1:04 PM: updates number of eligible voters

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