By: Staff Writer
Winnipeg Free Press
A high-ranking source within the Southern Assembly of Chiefs Organization has confirmed Grand Chief Murray Clearsky has been relieved of his duties.
Confirmation came following a special chiefs meeting Tuesday to address allegations of inappropriate spending that had been made against Clearsky, who was accused of taking $10,000 of SCO funds for a gambling trip to a Minnesota casino and amusement park.
"Grand Chief Clearsky has lost the vote of non-confidence," one chief told the Free Press on condition of anonymity. "He has been removed from office."
Earlier this month, federal officials demanded the SCO address the allegations.
"Any misuse of taxpayers' dollars is entirely inappropriate and we urge the executive chiefs to immediately address these spending allegations," said the statement from the office of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.
"First Nations chiefs, councils and organizations are elected officials accountable to their members," the statement said.
Chief Morris Swan Shannacappo, chairman of the SCO executive committee and chief of Rolling River First Nation, could not be reached for comment.
But in a news release, Shannacappo said: "The chiefs-in-assembly of SCO has acted to restore public confidence in the operation and financial management of the organization."
Clearsky's cellphone was out of service on Tuesday.
In the past, Clearsky has denied any misuse of funds, saying he had authorization from the chiefs for the transactions.
However, Clearsky refused to comment on how he used the money chiefs authorized him to withdraw directly from SCO's account through a series of ATM transactions.
During the interview earlier this month, Clearsky was defiant.
"I ain't going to be thrown out (today). There's no rush. It takes an assembly to throw me out," Clearsky said.
The allegations concerned a series of withdrawals from an SCO account for a total of about $10,000 in the past few months.
The biggest withdrawals were Sept. 17, when more than $7,000 was taken in cash in a series of ATM transactions, bank statements leaked to media show.
More was withdrawn the next day, with another sum of nearly $2,500 alleged to have been pulled out of the same account Sept. 18.
On both days, the withdrawals were made from ATMs in Minnesota -- including Prior Lake, where the Mystic Lake Casino is located.
Clearsky was reported to be visiting at the time.
A month earlier, $800 was withdrawn from the same area when Clearsky was reported to have paid another visit to the area, this time to a Shakopee amusement park.
Larry Barker of Hollow Water First Nation was elected to be the new grand chief on an interim basis.
The executive will meet next week to determine the date for an election.
The SCO is the political umbrella organization serving 33 First Nations in southern Manitoba.