March 19, 2019

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First Nation implores AWOL chief to come home

ALEXANDRA PAUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Roseau River council Elected March 9, from the left - Gary Roberts, Rachel Seenie Ferreira, June Thomas and Ken Henry Jr. with supporters in the background holding up signs. To the far right is elder council member Linda Roberts.</p>

ALEXANDRA PAUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Roseau River council Elected March 9, from the left - Gary Roberts, Rachel Seenie Ferreira, June Thomas and Ken Henry Jr. with supporters in the background holding up signs. To the far right is elder council member Linda Roberts.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/9/2017 (545 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ROSEAU RIVER — A southern Manitoba First Nation with a troubled political history issued a public appeal Wednesday for its chief to return to work and help mend decades of differences that have divided it.

Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation declared at a news conference it wants to end years of litigious differences, including the latest one that left it with two separate elected councils in March.

After a traditional sage smudge ceremony, an honour song and a prayer, the Free Press was told the community of 2,000 people near the North Dakota border has had enough of infighting and court challenges.

The event drew together members of its elders' council, traditionally tasked with mediating peace, along with one of the community's two elected councils. Supporters including children crowded into the council chambers, some holding placards that called for "accountability" from its elected officials.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/9/2017 (545 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ROSEAU RIVER — A southern Manitoba First Nation with a troubled political history issued a public appeal Wednesday for its chief to return to work and help mend decades of differences that have divided it.

Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation declared at a news conference it wants to end years of litigious differences, including the latest one that left it with two separate elected councils in March.

After a traditional sage smudge ceremony, an honour song and a prayer, the Free Press was told the community of 2,000 people near the North Dakota border has had enough of infighting and court challenges.

The event drew together members of its elders' council, traditionally tasked with mediating peace, along with one of the community's two elected councils. Supporters including children crowded into the council chambers, some holding placards that called for "accountability" from its elected officials.

The community held two elections in March, electing virtually the same council to both, with the exception of two councillors. It also elected the same chief.

Since then, it's seen more of the council elected March 9 and almost nothing of the council elected in a court-ordered vote March 12.

"That wouldn't be tolerated out there in your society," said Coun. Gary Roberts. "If your elected officials didn't show up for work, you'd be up in arms."Roberts was elected March 9.

He, other councillors and elders said the elected chief, Craig Alexander, hasn't responded to calls in weeks, and they fear he's lost heart for his job given the dissension. He has not returned Free Press calls.

The result has been a political stalemate and administrative chaos. Water deliveries haven't been made in three days.

Tension reached a breaking point with a Sept. 15 referendum. About 10 per cent of the population turned out to vote and overwhelmingly sided to have local government taken over by the first council, elected March 9.

"This has caused a lot of chaos and division among our families. People are threatened, they feel threatened with court action, and we want to take back our government. Our people will not tolerate any more outside interference," Coun. June Thomas said.Thomas was elected to the first and the second council. Roseau River struggles with poverty even though it has a multimillion-dollar bank account that generates interest, thanks to an $80-million package from Ottawa paid a decade ago for an illegal land surrender over a century ago.

"They have used our money against us," said Coun. Rachel Seenie Ferreira, who was elected in both elections in March. "We live in Third World conditions. Instead, our funds are going to lawyers to fight our own people."

Internal power struggles have been the focus of one court case after another between rival factions, dating back years. Sometimes, the courts dissolve the local government. Other times, they order new elections under strict oversight.

None of legal manoeuvres has brought peace, elders said.

Helen Hayden, chair of the elders council, recounted an appeal the chief made to their council a month ago to settle divisions, which seemed to go nowhere.

"Leadership cried for our help and asked us for support. We gave him our support," said Debra Govereau of the elders council. "When you get a chief asking his people for help to regain our community, we are going to step in," she said.

As a result, the elders released a to-do list Wednesday.

It calls for an end to all legal activity and the dissolution of a special committee focused on court appeals. The elders want lawyers and consultants fired.

They have told both elected councils to return to a custom council system, which the reserve adopted 25 years ago, and use it to mend its internal power struggle.

The council elected March 9 appears willing to do that.

"We have our own judicial system we're working on. That way we won't be running to an outside government," Coun. Ken Henry, Jr. said.

Henry, a former chief at the centre of some of the legal differences, said it's time to stop fighting and resolve the community's power struggles internally.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Alexandra Paul

Alexandra Paul
Reporter

Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.

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