(Rolling River First Nation Chief Morris Shannacappo worried community could pay price from controversy. APTN/File Photo)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
A Manitoba chief at the centre of a swirling controversy involving allegations of vote-buying and counter threats of legal action from a senior Aboriginal Affairs official says he’s worried the fall-out could result in Ottawa making his community pay the price.
Rolling River First Nation Chief Morris Shannacappo said he is now in “damage control” mode after his name was included in an email sent by former Roseau River Chief Terry Nelson to Prime Minister Stephen Harper which alleged federal officials were trying to influence votes in the run-up to this past summer’s election for national chief of the Assembly of First Nation.
“I want to talk to the (Aboriginal Affairs) officials first and make sure that my band won’t pay for any of this. It’s a passive-aggressive relationship we live with and if I say anything I am worried my band would suffer. That is how government is,” said Shannacappo. “With First Nations, if they fight government, they don’t get anything.”
In the widely distributed email, Nelson wrote that Shannacappo was involved in a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs’ Manitoba regional director general Anna Fontaine where the discussion touched on Nelson and the financial needs of Rolling River.
The allegation was one of several contained in the email. None of the allegations have been proven.
Nelson was one of the candidates running for national chief of the AFN and he is preparing to lead a small delegation to Iran this autumn.
Fontaine responded by firing off an email to Nelson, warning him to retract the statements in the email or he’d face legal action.
“As one of the many copied individuals in this email I felt compelled to respond. These are very serious defamatory allegations that cause great damage to my personal and professional reputation. I have always and continue to want to work with our communities, but I have never ever promised anything for votes for anyone,” wrote Fontaine, in the email which was also widely distributed by Nelson. “I demand that you take corrective action to retract this unfounded allegation. I will be consulting legal counsel and will be exploring all legal avenues of redress to protect my reputation.”
Nelson also received an email from Ron Hallman, Aboriginal Affairs senior assistant deputy minister for regional operations.
“I was extremely disappointed to read your comments concerning Anna Fontaine in your recent letter to the prime minister. I know Anna to be an exemplary public servant and a dedicated advocate for First Nations communities we seek to collaborate with. It is particularly troubling that you have made these allegations in such a public way, based on comments you claim to have heard from a third-party, and without the courtesy of offering Anna an opportunity to rebut, wrote Hallman, in the email also distributed widely by Nelson. “To give public credence to any notion that Anna’s efforts are in any way linked to the political activities of First Nations leaders, without evidence, amounts to an unfair and unreasonable attack on a professional public servant who deserves better. I invite you to consider retracting the comments or tabling evidence to substantiate the allegations against Anna at your earliest convenience.”
APTN National News contacted the two senior officials on Saturday using the addresses distributed by Nelson. On Sunday, Lesia Manchulenko, the department’s manager of media relations, emailed a statement to APTN National News.
“No evidence has been produced to support these allegations. In the absence of such evidence, these unsubstantiated allegations should be retracted,” said the statement.
Shannacappo said there was no direct discussion about the upcoming AFN vote during his meeting with Fontaine. Shannacappo, who wouldn’t discuss details of the meeting, also said he told Fontaine he would not be backing Nelson in his trip to Iran and that Rolling River needed financial help from Ottawa.
“We never talked about anything on voting at all,” he said. “I went to the department and asked for some help for my community and I told them I was invited to Iran and I said I wouldn’t go.”
Shannacappo blamed himself, Nelson and the government for blowing the issue out of proportion.
“I think it was caused a little bit by everyone,” he said. “Terry cites these things and brings it forward and the government reacts and my name is thrown into the mix.”
Nelson, however, has no plans to retract the contents of his email and said he is not afraid of a legal battle over the allegations.
“I am not the only one that can testify as to what Morris said,” said Nelson. “He is under the gun. He is the only person that can lose a lot in terms of funding for the community.”
Nelson said he would look forward to issuing subpoenas to Aboriginal Affairs officials and chiefs to testify under oath on whether the department uses funding to influence political outcomes.
“This is real,” he said.