By Larissa Burnouf
APTN National News
SASKATOON-A Saskachewan chief who hid a drunk driving charge weeks before he was elected to the post of leading the province’s biggest First Nations organization is refusing to step down despite growing calls for his resignation.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Guy Lonechild recently pleaded guilty to drinking and driving and is facing a sentencing hearing on March 23 in provincial court.
Lonechild was charged weeks before he was elected to lead the federation, but he kept the incident hidden from the chiefs who cast the votes.
Lonechild faced immediate opposition at the opening of the federation’s annual assembly Wednesday when a vote was held to prevent him from giving the opening address.
The assembly went into a four-hour in camera session and Lonechild emerged saying he was still chief.
“I am still the chief of the federation,” said Lonechild. “I believe the FSIN will emerge a stronger governing body as a result of the ongoing discussions.”
Behind the scenes, however, machinations continued to push Lonechild out. A petition was circulated and reportedly signed by 30 chiefs calling on Lonechild to resign.
The petition, however, was ignored and it appears Lonechild is being protected by the federation’s complex process for the removal of a chief which requires $1,000, a band council resolution and other paperwork from 25 bands before a non-confidence vote can be triggered. A vote of non-confidence needs the support of at least 35 chiefs for it to succeed.
The issue is dividing chiefs.
Lonechild, who appeared with supporters and family to face the media, said some chiefs backing his position say the matter is a personal one.
“This was a personal issue that happened before I was chief of the FSIN,” said Lonechild, skirting the fact he was charged shortly before he was elected.
Other chiefs are saying he should go.
Chief Felix Thomas, the head of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, said Lonechild should step aside.
“Our feelings are still such that we would not support him as the federation chief, and kindly ask him not to speak on our behalf,” Thomas told local radio station CKOM.