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Head of Saskatchewan first nations organization facing dismissal

Guy Lonechild has already had a tough month as head of Saskatchewan's most powerful first nations organization.

First he was suspended. Then he was locked out after winning a court order to go back to work. Now he faces outright dismissal.

Yet Mr. Lonechild hopes to finish the last year of his three-year term as the democratically elected chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.

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"It's going to be very hard to look my colleagues in the eye and to know that they don't think that I should be there," he said. "I don't know what their feelings are going to be, but I'm hoping that we can get through this."

On Aug. 4, the FSIN's Joint Executive Council and Indian Government Commission, in consultation with its Senate, ruled there was sufficient cause to suspend Mr. Lonechild (and his political staff) pending a non-confidence vote slated to be held at a special legislative assembly on Sept. 1.

It was alleged that Mr. Lonechild failed to disclose that he was charged with impaired driving in the month prior to running for election as chief in October, 2009.

Mr. Lonechild, who has served for 11 years as an executive member with FSIN, has maintained that he did make the disclosure. He later pleaded guilty.

But revelations of the charge surfaced earlier this year and, with it, calls for his removal. He maintains that opposition to his reforms to make FSIN more accountable and transparent are what's actually behind his ousting.

"That's really irked a lot of people," Mr. Lonechild said.

Under his watch, the organization has stepped back from the troubled Regina-based First Nations University of Canada. He has also cut honorariums, per diems and travel to save money. He points to results: a $225,000 surplus and near debt-free status for the FSIN by the end of the year.

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And so, he turned to the courts. On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench ruled that both the suspension and planned non-confidence vote contravene the FSIN's own rules and violate principles of "natural justice."

Neither FSIN officials nor its lawyer responded to calls for comment, but the ruling will be appealed.

"The FSIN will file a notice of appeal based on our position as First Nations we have inherent and treaty rights to govern ourselves," Vice Chief Morley Watson said in a statement.

Some chiefs of the 74 Indian nations the organization represents are also planning to participate in a non-confidence vote on Thursday, while others have told Mr. Lonechild they are going to stay away.

Mr. Lonechild has more than 800 supporters on a Facebook group called "Guy Lonechild should not step down as chief of FSIN."

But support for his return appears much more frosty at the FSIN head office in Saskatoon, which was locked when Mr. Lonechild tried to resume his duties on Wednesday.

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Mr. Watson, who has been serving as interim chief, phoned a local talk radio station to explain that there was no attempt to block Mr. Lonechild's return.

"Sometimes we change locks. We do have a coded system and sometimes they need to be recoded," he said. "We asked our staff to work out of their homes for the next couple of days while we work through this process, and certainly there was no intent to lock anybody out of our office."

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About the Author
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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