Former Roseau River chief pledges to set up 5 urban reserves in Winnipeg
Terry Nelson, the new grand chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization (SCO), is promising to set up five urban reserves in Winnipeg within the next two years.
Nelson, a former chief of the Roseau River First Nation and an vocal critic of the federal government's approach to aboriginal affairs, was elected as the SCO's grand chief by the organization's member chiefs on Thursday.
The new grand chief told CBC News he's not interested in working with any level of government, and it's the private sector he wants First Nations to team up with.
"If we don't have money, we're not getting anywhere. So the first priority is to make sure that own-source revenues is there and that we don't have to be dependent on government," Nelson said Thursday.
Nelson said in addition to the urban reserves, he plans to establish eight to 11 rural reserves in southern Manitoba.
Other priorities he identified include dealing with unemployment and the number of aboriginal children in care.
He replaces Murray Clearsky, who was removed from office in October after allegations surfaced that he had withdrawn funds from SCO's account for personal use during a trip to Minnesota.
Nelson has been an outspoken and controversial figure: for example, he compared aboriginal reserves to "concentration camps" during an interview on Iranian television in 2012.
In 2011, a federal audit of the Roseau River First Nation's finances found that millions of dollars may have been misused or misspent.
Many of the concerns raised in the audit stemmed from Nelson's time as the band's chief.
Nelson acknowledged that he is responsible for financial irregularities in Roseau River in 2011 because he was the chief at the time, but he denies mismanaging funds.
Long Plain First Nation Chief Dennis Meeches says he's not surprised to hear that Nelson, a controversial figure, has been chosen to head up the SCO.
"I think that First Nations people are very very frustrated with the current federal government — their policies, their cutbacks," Meeches said.
"There's a lot of challenges that we face, and love him or hate him, I believe Terry will probably shake it up a little bit."
In particular, Nelson may be able to resolve issues that have kept some First Nations members displaced since the flood of 2011, said Meeches.