Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chief, councillors back in office

Federal Court nullifies Roseau River ouster

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A troubled First Nation south of Winnipeg saw its leadership kicked out of office, then put back in office again inside one short week.

Chief Ken Henry and councillors Gary Roberts, Cecil James and Evelyn Alexander were returned to office at Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, 100 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

The chief and three councillors won a Federal Court injunction against their removal from office late Friday.

A short statement to confirm the reversal was released at the beginning of the Victoria Day weekend. It did not say why the court granted the injunction to block the removal.

Sources who support the chief suggested Saturday it is related to an interpretation of the band's constitution: Impeachment votes require consensus, which the chief and councillors successfully argued means an unanimous vote.

A custom council removed the chief and three of the four councillors Tuesday in a vote of 14 to 6.

A band member who opposes the chief warned that court ruling or not, there is a sizable segment of the community's population that wants the chief and the three councillors out of office.

"This fight is not over yet. You can quote me on that," said the band member, who declined to be quoted by name.

The custom council that kicked the chief and councillors out was made up of one representative from each of the 21 families in the community.

The ruling is the latest in a series court actions that have put the Ojibwa community's governance under judicial scrutiny.

The custom council's rulings have been challenged in court in the past.

The last time it removed a chief -- Terry Nelson, now Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization -- the removal was took nine votes, a decision later upheld in court.

This latest ruling appears at odds with the earlier ruling. It is not known if the constitution was amended between the two court actions.

The community is in turmoil over $12 million the current chief and council spent from a trust fund over the past three years.

That issue is before the Court of Queen's Bench in a separate petition. It asks for an audit of Roseau River's interest in an $80-million federal compensation award that settled an illegal land surrender in 1903.

Henry, the current chief, evicted Kathy Nelson, Terry Nelson's daughter, and her two partners in the Red Sun Smoke Shop & Gas Bar earlier this month.

A court injunction reversed the eviction from the property on the band's urban reserve north of Winnipeg. It reopened for business a week ago.

The underlying issue there was tension between Henry and the former Roseau River chief.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2014 A3

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