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Political struggles rock Metis Nation


D.B. Smith, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Cornwall Ontario







Page R1

Alberta's largest Metis organization is in turmoil, following what some call an attempted coup.

On Oct. 1 the board of the Metis Nation of Alberta suspended recently-elected president Gerald Thom and vice-president Lyle Donald following widespread allegations of electoral irregularities.

Eight of the 13 board members, James Penton, Cliff Gladue, Peter Campion, Elmer Gullion, George Quintal, Louis Bellerose, Francis Dumais and Lisa Nooskey, were then suspended Oct. 2 by the Metis Senate.

But they were reinstated two days later after obtaining a provincial court order.

The members voted Oct. 1 to suspend Thom and Donald until an investigation into Metis Nation affairs was done.

The board also recommended that Senate co-chair Thelma Chalifoux be fired from the 14-member Senate of Elders, whose job it is to settle disputes.

But Thom refused to accept the vote and forced the group from the association's headquarters in Edmonton.

The board members and all office staff were escorted from the building after police were called Oct. 2.

"I was just doing my job as president when all of a sudden an interim, select few of the board members decided among themselves to try to overtake the office illegally," said Thom, who likened himself to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin standing the recent siege in Moscow.

Several protesters remained outside the building for the rest of the day, but there were no further confrontations. Approximately 50 people showed up the next morning to support the suspended board members.

The No Confidence vote against Thom was only the latest in a series of problems that arose in the wake of the election.

Thom became interim president after the death of Larry Desmeules this spring, and declared president after a recount in the September election.

Presidential candidates Cindy Desmeules-Bertolin, Ron Brady, Fred House and Laurent Roy filed a joint complaint to the senate last month over inconsistencies with the final vote count.

Thom, however, denied those allegations.

"I ran probably the most honest campaign," he said. "There was a couple of occasions when my campaign workers were being pushed around and wanted to retaliate and I said 'no, we stay above all that and go on with a positive campaign'."

This is not the first time people have tried to discredit his campaign, Thom said.

Accusations of sexually molesting his daughter were made during his 1987 campaign in Rocky Mountain House, he said.

The board members are not only opposed to Thom's presidency, James Penton said.

The group is upset that Thom fired three Metis Nation staff members, including Carolyn Pettifer, who ran against Thom in the election.

Thom defended his firings, saying it was his right as president to hire or fire anyone he chose.

Pettifer was fired because she had opposed him in the election, he said.