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Chief Shawn Atleo (R) from British Columbia talks to candidate chief Terrance Nelson after the first ballot at the Canadian Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Calgary, July 22, 2009.

Todd Korol/Reuters

Firebrand aboriginal leader Terrance (Terry) Nelson says his people in Southern Manitoba badly need investment. And that's why he is approaching Iran and OPEC nations for help.

"The Dakota [Objiway]proposal to the OPEC nations is to help us with a refinery," Mr. Nelson said in interview, explaining that he is seeking infrastructure investment from Iran and other Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. His request may seem unusual, but Mr. Nelson said he has all but given up on getting help from North American governments.

"If we're going to the Islamic people and we're going to the Iranians, countries that are prepared to work with us, whose fault is it?" Mr. Nelson asks.

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Mr. Nelson is the 58-year-old former chief of the Roseau River First Nation who has a reputation for courting controversy. This time, he is trying to make friends with Iran, even as hawks in Western countries are seeking military intervention over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.

The Manitoba-based Mr. Nelson has been busy penning letters to "His Excellency" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and stopping by the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. He wants visas so that he can lead a delegation of like-minded native Canadian leaders to Iran.

Mr. Nelson's overtures have been dismissed as a publicity stunt, but the Iranian embassy says the request is being considered. "They have requested to travel to Iran and speak at the Iranian parliament. Their wish has been sent to the relevant officials for consideration," the Iranian chargé d'affaires says in a written reply to media queries.

Mr. Nelson's request has led to another invitation, however. A mosque near Toronto called the Islamic Society of York Region asked him to stop by for a talk during last week's Friday prayers.

Imam Zafar Bangash introduced Mr. Nelson as a survivor of a European-led "genocide" that caused North America's native population to decline to a 10th of its peak population.

"Today we face another disaster," Mr. Nelson said during his speech, portions of which were broadcast by aboriginal network APTN.

Announcing he would again be running for the leadership of Canada's Assembly of First Nations, Mr. Nelson said he had been to invited to Iraq 15 years earlier to document the deaths of children who suffered because of international sanctions.

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The audience of nearly 1,000 Muslims was receptive to his message. "You are blessed today because people in the past thought about you and they resisted the crusaders," Mr. Nelson said. "We too have met the crusaders."

For Muslims, the term "Crusaders" evokes the overzealous Catholic armies that rampaged across the Middle East during the Middle Ages.

In an interview, Mr. Nelson said it was the right term to use. "I don't mind using the 'crusader' word – when you speak to an audience you speak to them about what they believe and what they see."

He added: "Iranians are facing hundreds of thousands of deaths, maybe millions, if this war proceeds."

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