A powerful Manitoba chiefs association has taken the unusual step of backing calls for democratic elections at scandal-ridden Buffalo Point First Nation by recognizing a new chief.
The Southern Chiefs Organization passed a formal motion in a meeting this week to recognize Andrea Camp as the chief of Buffalo Point, Grand Chief Terry Nelson said.
The motion means current Chief John Thunder is no longer recognized as an aboriginal chief by his fellow leaders. Thunder, who says he is a hereditary chief, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
"The chiefs recognized Andrea Camp because she has the support of the people, and at some point if there is a clear and fair election at Buffalo Point and they elect John Thunder, then he will be the recognized chief," Nelson said Tuesday. "The chiefs didn't vote against John Thunder, they voted for the representative of the people of Buffalo Point."
It's rare for First Nations chiefs to speak publicly against each other. The SCO agreed to a special meeting to consider Buffalo Point after residents protested Thunder's leadership style.
Band members believe he is trying to force them off the reserve so he can develop the land for more cottages. They complain that band funds from Ottawa for their benefit are used to support reserve businesses privately owned by the Thunders and their supporters.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt's office released a carefully worded statement late Tuesday in response to the development in Winnipeg:
"The Buffalo Point First Nation selects its leadership under a custom community system (custom code), and are elected or selected in accordance with the community's established process," the minister's office said.
"Any specific questions with respect to a First Nation's custom election process should be directed to the community. AANDC has not been advised of any changes in the leadership of Buffalo Point First Nation."
Camp said she was picked by the majority of adult Ojibwa band members on the tiny reserve and all but two of the 17 who live there stood beside her in a show of strength at the SCO meeting in Winnipeg on Monday.
Two off-reserve band members, one from Detroit Lakes, Minn., and another from Alberta, also attended.
That leaves another 15 or so off-reserve Ojibwa band members Camp wants to canvass before the band officially informs Ottawa of the change in leadership and how it will proceed with elections, she said.