Former First Nation Leaders Look to Iran for Human Rights Help

Terry Nelson, ousted chief of Roseau River First Nation, is appealing to Iran for human-rights assistance and housing investment.

As the West seeks to continue to isolate Iran to contain its burgeoning nuclear program, a renegade former chief and other First Nation leaders are actively trying to engage the leadership of the Middle Eastern nation.

The outreach is led by Former Roseau River First Nation chief Terry Nelson, Canupawakpa Dakota Nation Chief Frank Brown, Dakota Plains Wahpeton First Nation Chief Orville Smoke and former Sioux Valley First Nation chief Ken Whitecloud. All want to visit Iran, which the U.S. State Department says sponsors terrorism, to enlist its help in combatting Canada’s human rights record in regard to aboriginal peoples.

Nelson, who was removed from his spot as leader of the Roseau River First Nation in southern Manitoba last September, met with Iranian officials at their embassy in Ottawa on March 12 to discuss housing investment. Nelson also went to 17 embassies to disseminate information about aboriginal issues.

A spokesman for Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird called the overtures inappropriate and misplaced. “The Iranian regime is now attempting to exploit tragedy and feign concern as yet another PR stunt to distract from its own abhorrent record,” said spokesman Joseph Lavoie in a statement to Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) National News. “We hope the aboriginal leaders in question won’t allow themselves to be used as pawns in this sad game the Iranians are playing.”

Nelson, who claims he was ousted in a “coup” engineered by the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, replied, “Aren’t the nice, friendly Indians that are given money by the government of Canada used as pawns also? Doesn’t Canada use First Nations as pawns? They always have.”

Iran’s support of First Nations dates back almost a century. In the 1920s, what was then Persia backed Haudenosaunee hereditary Chief Deskaheh’s unsuccessful request to give the Six Nations Confederacy formal membership in the League of Nations, APTN reported. Decades later the gesture seems ironic, given Iran’s violence against its own Kurdish indigenous population.

More recently, Iran began criticizing Canada’s attitude toward its indigenous people shortly before Nelson began his outreach. In January, Iran summoned the senior diplomat at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran and scolded him about Canada’s mistreatment of aboriginals, the Winnipeg Free Press reported. The Iranian official who made the complaint said that educational inequities, abject poverty and the living conditions of Canadian aboriginal people constituted a violation of human rights.

It is not clear whether Nelson and the chiefs may legally solicit help from Iran, as doing so could violate international sanctions upheld by Canadian law, said GlobalTV News.