POLITICS
08/05/2011 01:02 EDT | Updated 10/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Head of Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations temporarily suspended

REGINA - Saskatchewan's top aboriginal leader — who has been facing controversy over a drunk driving conviction — has been temporarily relieved of his job pending a confidence vote.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations said Chief Guy Lonechild and his political staff were suspended with pay.

The decision came after the FSIN executive council and Indian Government Commission held a hearing to decide whether to issue a non-confidence motion against Lonechild.

The chief has told various media the suspension isn't legal and he plans to fight back.

He also said he will be talking with both the provincial and federal governments.

“I think we need some allies out there," he said. "I think I’m going to be calling on the provincial and federal governments to ensure that the very good work that we did with the FNUC (First Nations University of Canada) and the FSIN is maintained and we need to put in place safeguards to make sure that that’s so."

Rod Desnomie, regional spokesman for Indian and Northern Affairs, said Lonechild's suspension won't affect any federal funding.

“Any leadership dispute is deemed to be an internal matter to the organization," he said. "It really doesn’t affect the department. We do have a funding agreement with the FSIN but because this is an internal matter it doesn’t affect the funding agreement."

The FSIN said Lonechild's uncle, vice-chief Morley Watson, will take over Lonechild's duties.

Watson said the decision to suspend Lonechild was not made lightly.

“As the next executive member I have to do some of the work that people don’t like to do but the work that is necessary,” said Watson.

Watson said one of the first things the vice chiefs did after Lonechild's suspension was appoint Dutch Lerat as vice chief responsible for the FSIN senate.

Lerat is no stranger to controversy, having been fired in 2000 from the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority after the provincial auditor issued a report showing misspending in the organization.

Watson said he's not worried about Lerat's past problems.

“I’m not going to judge people and I have confidence in our executive to do the job,” said Watson.