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Arrest of rebels ends month-long standoff

Michael Smith, Windspeaker Contributor, Waterhen First Nation, Man.

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An RCMP investigation unit is on the Waterhen First Nation piecing

together the events of a month-long armed standoff that displaced 300

residents from their homes.

Police are looking into reports of criminal activities believed to have

been committed by rebel members of the Waterhen First Nation. The

crimes include vandalism, looting and arson. At least three houses were

burned to the ground, including the residence of Chief Harvey Nepinak.

A temporary RCMP detachment will be set up on the reserve for the next

three weeks to a month, said RCMP Cpl. Randy Daley.

"We have a long investigation to do here into all the activities that

have been going on. We want to make sure that people can get back to

their lives as quickly as possible.

The standoff ended on May 19, when police on morning patrol noticed

that the barricade, usually defended by armed rebels, was unmanned.

They seized the opportunity to secure the 20-metre-long structure, built

with old cars, tractors and wagons. The 100-man tactical unit then

moved cautiously into the community, but met little resistance. No

shots were fired and no injuries were reported.

By evening the rebels, along with their leader Gordon Catcheway, had

been taken into custody. Among those arrested were members of the

Winnipeg Warriors, an Aboriginal street gang with a reputation for

violence and criminal activity.

The sudden end to the standoff came at a time when tensions between

reserve dissidents and police had escalated. Two days earlier Catcheway

backed away from a tentative agreement to end the standoff. That same

evening the chief's house was set ablaze, followed by police cutting off

phone service.

Police also fired flares toward the barricade and sounded sirens for a

couple of hours overnight in an attempt to intimidate those still on


The standoff began April 14, when opponents of Chief Nepinak erected

the barricade and banished the chief and his supporters from the

community. The rebels demanded a separate reserve of their own,

accusing Nepinak of corruption and intimidation. The chief has always

denied the charges..

Catcheway has been trying unsuccessfully to remove Nepinak from office

for many years. He lost the last two elections to the chief, the most

recent one held in November, 1995. Local legend has it that the bad

blood between the Catcheway and Nepinak families date back over 100


Approximately 300 band members spent the duration of the standoff in

the nearby community of Dauphin.

A variety of prominent people met with the rebels during the month

hoping to negotiate an end to the conflict. They included an associate

chief provincial court judge, two MLAs, a Pentecostal minster, a reserve

Elder and the mayor of a nearby community.

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