Roseau River First Nation Chief Terry Nelson defends himself against allegations of money mismanagement during a press conference at a VLT Lounge just west of Winnipeg, Manitoba Friday, March 11, 2011.
Credits: MARCEL CRETAIN/QMI AGENCY
Full disclosure: I have a professional history with Terry Nelson, the former chief of a Manitoba reserve who has sparked controversy this week by travelling to Iran in hopes of getting the mullahs there to back his demands for better human rights treatment for Canada's First Peoples.
In an interview on state-run television in Tehran Sunday, Nelson and Dennis Pashe, another former Manitoba chief, referred to reserves as "concentration camps" and agree the high murder rate among aboriginals was "part of the ongoing effort by the Canadian government to exterminate" aboriginals.
So what is my connection with Nelson? On several occasions (including as recently as this week), Nelson has blamed Jewish media for the bad coverage he receives. Since a paper I used to work for was owned for a time by a Jewish family and since it was also very critical of him, Nelson often blamed our coverage on the owners' faith.
In 2005, after we took Nelson to task for defending the anti-Semitic rhetoric of another former chief, David Ahenakew of Saskatchewan, he railed that if Ahenakew wasn't exonerated the police would face more violence from aboriginals and First Nations people would come to hate Jews more.
He pledged "I do not intend to sit back if Jewish writers continue to write hateful articles ... against my people." The irony is, I was the writer of most of the editorials that so enraged Nelson and I am a Gentile.
Beyond his dark thoughts on Jews, Nelson has a long history of inflammatory rhetoric.
He nearly always refers to non-aboriginals as "immigrants," no matter where their ancestors came from or how many centuries their families have lived in Canada.
A few years ago when the Pembina Valley Water Co-operative cut off water to Nelson's Roseau River reserve south of Winnipeg, he declared it "an act of terrorism," even though his administration had not paid its water bills for four months.
In June this year, while contemplating yet another run for head of the Assembly of First Nations, Nelson called on aboriginal people to prepare for conflict with Canada's armed forces. In the past, he has threatened to join highway and railway blockades and even contemplated separation from Canada to join up with the United States. (His reserve is just a few kilometres from Minnesota.)
He has also publicly said the only way to get a "white man's" attention is to "pick up a gun" or stand between him "and his money."
But perhaps the most important thing to know about Terry Nelson is that in September 2011 he was removed as chief by his band's council by a 9-1 vote. Council spokesman Linda Roberts said at the time councillors were concerned by Nelson's "failure to accept invitations to update ... council on finances, activities and other band governance issues."
In March of last year, an independent auditor released a comprehensive examination of Roseau River's books from 2002 through 2009. He found that the band ran a surplus between 2003 and 2005 while administered by a federal manager, but accumulated a deficit of $1.5-million from 2006 to 2008, when managed by Nelson and a previous council.
The auditor also had questions about $567,000 in loans and advances made to six current and former employees that were not recorded in the financial statements, including money that went allegedly to Nelson's daughter for a gas station she operated on the reserve.
Nelson vehemently denied any impropriety and offered counter-explanations of where the money had gone, but ultimately his explanations were deemed insufficient by his own band's council, which expelled him from office.
Not to worry. I'm sure Nelson will find all sorts of new friends in Iran.