01/13/2012 08:10 EST | Updated 03/14/2012 05:12 EDT

2 chiefs, 1 First Nation: Ottawa orders referendum for voters on Manitoba reserve

ROSEAU RIVER, Man. - Ottawa has ordered a referendum on the Manitoba First Nation which has elected two chiefs.

Registered voters on Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation will make their way to the polls Feb. 16 to cast ballots on how to elect their next government in a formal referendum under the Indian Act.

The political uncertainty on the reserve has led to banks freezing millions of dollars in accounts after the election of the rival chiefs.

The referendum question asks if the First Nation wants to scrap the current custom council system of government in favour of an Indian Act election code.

The chronology for the bizarre power struggle saw the custom council overturn an election in March and oust Terry Nelson as chief.

Then custom council called another vote and Winnipeg-based accountant Ken Henry was elected as chief in October.

The First Nation custom council has the authority to set election dates and remove chiefs from office and it’s taken its case to court and won in a bitter and protracted court battle.

Observers say infighting escalated this fall because that’s when the First Nation took possession of an $80 million settlement to compensate for lands stolen a century ago.

Some $8 million, now frozen in bank accounts, is the focus of the current tussle for power, including a $6 million line of credit with $2 million in interest earned in 2011.

(Winnipeg Free Press)