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Roseau River woes head to courtroom again

Councillor, elder demand audit

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ROSEAU River First Nation is headed back to court.

After three years without a single dispute spilling into the province's courts, the Ojibwa First Nation known for its internal political struggles will be back before a judge.

This time, a band councillor and elder contend the current chief and council have ignored legal obligations governing an $80-million federal compensation fund the band won in 2011.

Frequent battles on Roseau spilled into the courts when Terry Nelson led the band as chief. Nelson was also the architect of the $80-million fund, winning it after decades of negotiations with Ottawa over an illegal surrender of reserve land in 1903.

This time, the battle isn't over land or power and Nelson is now the grand chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization.

Band Coun. Alfred Hayden and band elder Curtis Jonnie petitioned the court to order an audit.

The pair questions how the band spent millions of dollars the two contend is unaccounted for back to 2011.

The petition was filed with the Court of Queen's Bench last week and a hearing is scheduled for April 8.

Affidavits filed with the petition allege Chief Ken Henry and his council spent $12 million of funds related to the $80-million trust fund, without accounting for it, from 2011 to 2013.

A Bank of Montreal branch that acts as the fund's trustee has offered to provide financial information about both the trustee and the audits, said Norman Boudreau, the lawyer for Hayden and Jonnie. But the band government has not offered financial information.

"It's unfortunate that the members have to go to the courts to force the leadership to comply with their own bylaws," Boudreau said.

Roseau River Anishinabe Nation Chief Ken Henry could not be reached Sunday.

No statement of defence has been issued.

The court documents allege provisions for annual audits and public meetings to account for the spending weren't met.

Half of the money, $6 million, was interest earned on the 2011 compensation agreement for the $80 million, court documents claim.

The other half of the money, another $6 million, is a loan the chief and council obtained, using the fund as collateral, court documents allege.

The spending being challenged also includes hundreds of thousands of dollars distributed to the custom council, a governing body with local powers that is made up of appointed representatives from each family on the First Nation. Its actions have been challenged in court in the past over election-related decisions. The council was frequently at odds with Nelson during the five terms he was chief at Roseau but it has been peaceful since 2011.

This time, the custom council is alleged to have spent money in breach-of-trust provisions.

Ottawa insisted on an airtight trust agreement to protect the capital and govern spending of the interest earned in the $80-million fund.

In letters filed with the court, the federal government said its role in the matter is done and any problems with the trust must be taken up with the band or in the courts.

Jonnie is better known as Shingoose, the stage name he adopted more than 30 years as a singer-songwriter. He is acknowledged as a pioneer in aboriginal music.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2014 A4


Updated on Monday, March 31, 2014 at 2:56 PM CDT: added byline

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