Gambler residents share their stories

·15 min read

Gambler First Nation first came to The Brandon Sun’s attention in May. An off-reserve member, Darlene Gerula, sent the Sun an email describing a variety of issues with leadership she believed placed on-reserve members’ lives at risk. Among these concerns was the use of Akwaton multipurpose wipes, the product of a company the leadership at Gambler was hoping to purchase. Health Canada recalled the wipes in late June because the product both expired in 2015 and contained polyhexamethylene guanidine hydrochloride, an ingredient not approved for use in Canada.

In the months since Gerula’s email, the Sun has met and spoken numerous times with several Gambler members and heard their stories. This is part two of a three-part series.

GAMBLER FIRST NATION — The drive into Gambler First Nation, which is along the Assiniboine River valley approximately two hours northwest of Brandon, unveils a visually idyllic location.

Vern Kalmakoff — an off-reserve member and longtime Brandon businessperson — drove this Sun reporter to the reserve. As he approached the heart of one area on the reserve with houses, he pointed out Chief David Ledoux’s "compound," as some Gambler members call it.

The large well-kept lot includes two impeccable-looking houses, a shed that looks better than the surrounding homes of Gambler members, and many, many vehicles — several all-terrain vehicles, a motorhome, a pontoon boat and assorted other vehicles — while two horses hang out at the rear.

Surrounding the compound are other members’ houses which, upon entry, are practically unliveable. The Sun visited several. Some were unfinished, though clearly older and not new builds.

This year was the first since at least 2012 that a new house had been built, according to former Chief Gordon Ledoux and several other Gambler members.

In one, the plumbing was in such disrepair, pipes were held up with a laundry detergent bottle. One had zero plumbing, and has not had water for two years.

Our first stop was to visit Sean Ledoux, David Ledoux’s brother, where Sean, frail and frightened, showed a video he had taken in February. Sean maintains he is terrorized by his brother. On Aug. 20, Sean received a communication from the income assistance administrator, Tara Tanner.

"I am writing this letter to remind you that the house you are living in is not safe and was deemed condemned. You have gotten letters and notices stating this as well. I am asking you to please find another dwelling that is considered safe for you to live in," she wrote.

But Sean has nowhere to go. The Gambler First Nation reserve is the only home he knows.

"You have been multiple letters from Housing Department, Sims and Company as well as verbal notices from Social," wrote housing manager Dana Tanner on Oct. 28.

Sean and his other siblings, the now-deceased former chief Gordon and Roxanne Brass, suggested David wants the house condemned because there are problems with the electrical wiring, which he allegedly installed himself.

Sean, as well as several other members, say that duplex was gutted and rebuilt roughly 10 years ago before Sean moved in. General problems appear to be mostly cosmetic — broken windows and the remains of a small fire when Sean was assaulted.

The Sun has a January 2017 letter from Manitoba Justice stating: "Please note that we have also advised Gambler First Nation that you should not be responsible for the damage that was done to your home during the criminal incident and that they should be recovering the money from the offender that caused the damage to your property."

To this day, the damage to Sean’s home has not been repaired.

In the video Sean made, he walks out his front door at Gambler First Nation and pauses at his duplex unit’s neighbouring door.

The video records the sound of rushing water behind the padlocked door. Sean trudges, in -40 C weather, to the back of the duplex, demonstrating how he must turn off the water from its source at the water tank, or the water will run out.

He trudges back to the front of the duplex, and pauses at the door, padlocked by the band leadership. Silence. He re-enters his own home and turns on his taps. No water. He trudges back to the rear of the duplex, turns on the water supply, trudges back to the front, pausing at the neighbouring door, again.

Again, the sound of rushing water.

He re-enters his unit and, now, he has water.

But he can’t leave the water valve on the tank open because the water for the two units will run out. That’s reason for concern because if the water runs out, there’s no telling when the tank will be refilled. Many houses on the reserve require a water truck to fill water tanks.

Sean recorded the whole process a second time. This was the only way, he thought, that he could prove the remarkable and frightening treatment his own brother David visits upon him. And that’s just one story of several.

The week of Nov. 16, after two weeks without water delivery, Sean was admitted to hospital for terrible stomach pain. It’s not the first time he has gone without water for long periods of time or the first time he has been admitted to hospital.

His former neighbour — his and David’s niece, Lisa Marie Ledoux — has her own story to tell.

An off-reserve member of Gambler, Lisa Marie accepted an invitation from David and his wife Rose to work in the community in 2016. She took on the role of National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program worker. She was also offered the duplex unit neighbouring Sean’s.

Lisa Marie told the Sun of a toxic work environment, similar to Darlene Gerula’s account.

"They were constantly calling me in and reprimanding me and calling me out at meetings and putting me down. They were really horrible with the staff, and I didn’t like it," she said.

Lisa Marie said she also didn’t like how the trio — which includes Coun. Kellie Ledoux, David’s daughter — treated members, and what they were doing as leaders in the community. She reported them to Canadian Accreditation Council. She said there was an investigation, but no followup.

"That made them retaliate even more," she said.

"They started putting restrictions on my programs until I couldn’t run them. When I finally left, if I ran a program, they had to be there overseeing, and nobody wanted to be around them. So nobody would come. They weren’t letting us spend our program dollars on the programs. They cut all the programs. I don’t know what they were doing with the money if they’re not spending it on the programs."

The Sun sent questions to the accreditation council to learn whether a former Gambler staff member made reports about alleged issues related to programming and programming dollars. We asked if the Canadian Accreditation Council received such reports, and whether an investigation was carried out and, if yes, what was the outcome.

We also asked if an accreditation staff member named Nadine Lafferty heard the chief’s wife, Rose Ledoux, state outright that she moved money out of Jordan’s Principle funds and used those funds in unrelated areas.

"In following with CAC’s processes, we were satisfied that Gambler First Nation Health Centre was meeting the requirements of the standards and was following what was in the purview of CAC’s accreditation during their accreditation," stated chief operations officer Amanda Ellis.

"As per our agreement with Gambler First Nation Health Centre, we are bound by confidentiality for any other matter and therefore cannot speak to anything other than their current accreditation status. They are currently in the process of accreditation."

Asked whether there is an on-site visit related to use of funds, board member Cheryl Whiskeyjack stated by email: "There is an onsite. We don’t assess the use of funds however."

Lisa Marie quit her position in May 2018, and collected employment insurance until finding a job in Brandon. Meanwhile, at home, she and her uncle Sean would go a week at a time without water.

Being without water was the last straw for Lisa Marie.

"I can’t live like this. I need water. I need to use the bathroom. I need to wash my dishes. I need to clean my house and shower. It just got to be too much," she said.

During her absence from the reserve, the leadership padlocked her door with its own lock, while her belongings were still on the premises. A new housing agreement states that if a member is going off reserve for more than five days, they must notify the band.

Lisa Marie saw Sean’s video, which he posted to Facebook, and thought her place was flooding because of a broken pipe. She had friends and family help her break the padlock.

"I didn’t want to go there alone. I knew that they (David, Rose and Kellie) would give me trouble. All the taps are on and they were running, and that’s why he (Sean) kept running out of water and it sounded like it was flooding."

Kalmakoff said two RCMP cars, with two officers in each, were there in a flash, within 20 minutes.

"With sirens going," said Brass.

RCMP charged Sean with breaking and entering — one of several acts he believes are intended to intimidate him to leave his unit, he said. An Oct. 21 court date was cancelled due to weather, but he said he has been pressured by RCMP multiple times to admit his guilt. He also said he was told he had to attend a meeting at a church to "take responsibility for his actions."

Lisa Marie said she called the RCMP Feb. 26, the day after her uncle was charged, to tell them she was entirely responsible.

"I did it," she said. "It was my place."

She left that message with one officer at the Russell detachment. She was told she would get a call back. She never did. She tried calling several more times, but the officer she needed to speak with was never in.

The RCMP have a different perspective.

"Russell RCMP has fully investigated the matter to which you refer. In no way do RCMP officers try to influence the outcome of an investigation. It is our job to gather evidence and follow where that leads. When we have gathered enough evidence to determine what happened, we provide our findings to the Crown," stated Manitoba RCMP media relations officer Tara Seel by email on Nov. 26.

"You have been provided a lot of information that we, as law enforcement, cannot speak to directly for several reasons: the Privacy Act, the case is before the courts, investigative process, to name a few. However, we do feel the need to provide some clarity on a few points that you mentioned. We cannot provide names of complainants or those involved in an investigation who are not charged with an Information sworn before a court of law."

Seel stated RCMP received a complaint on Feb. 25 from the band’s bylaw officer, who personally witnessed the event in progress.

"Several witnesses from the community also contacted investigators and corroborated this information, having also seen the event personally. Names of those seen committing the act were provided to investigators. We cannot provide you with names of everyone we spoke to concerning this matter, but we can confirm many people were spoken to throughout this investigation," Seel stated.

Darlene Gerula and her husband, Greg Wakin — a retired Winnipeg Police Service officer — dispute the RCMP statement. They say Gambler does not have a bylaw officer. Gerula said Harlene Swain, who was the housing manager at the time, witnessed the event.

"You refer to a restorative justice meeting that was scheduled and did not take place. I can confirm that is the case," Seel further stated. "However, for several reasons, including COVID-19, that meeting was cancelled. Restorative justice often needs people to come face-to-face as part of the process, and this is just not the time for those types of gatherings. I will add that since then, no other restorative justice meetings with the Russell RCMP have taken place for any investigation."

Wakin said he spoke with Michelle Funk, a restorative justice facilitator with the John Howard Society, after Sean asked Wakin to represent him.

"She said, I’ve been trying to get information on this case and I can’t get anything. There’s something fishy going on. And I told her that Sean’s in the dark, the RCMP have been harassing him, telling him they’re going to pick him up and telling him to say that you’re sorry, you did this, and you are guilty of it," Wakin said.

Wakin told her Sean was not guilty of anything, but police keep coming to his door and harassing him. According to Wakin, Funk told him she would look into it.

"We talked after that and she said that she was going to cancel everything, because I said, number one, Sean doesn’t want to go to this. He’s not going to plead guilty, and he didn’t commit this offence. So he doesn’t want to go, he doesn’t want to be harassed anymore."

Wakin said he told Funk he hoped the RCMP were not going to go to Sean’s door in future. According to Wakin, Funk said she would make sure that didn’t happen anymore.

"And she did everything. She did all that and that was the end of it. It wasn’t cancelled because of COVID. It was cancelled because of the way the RCMP handled it," Wakin said.

When The Sun reached Funk by phone, she denied knowledge of the matter, including the people involved.

"I do not know what you’re referring to," she said.

"I cannot confirm or deny anything," she added when asked if she had spoken to Wakin.

"I am unable to talk about my work in this capacity."

Wakin maintains Harlene Swain, Gambler’s housing manager at the time, stirred up the issue.

"She saw people in front of the house, but there was no offence. The homeowner was there trying to get into her own suite, to get her property and get access to her suite. So, whatever you saw, wasn’t a break and enter. It was the owner of the suite trying to get access to it. It’s just so ridiculous. It’s gone so far for nothing. There was no offence. There was no criminal intent," Wakin said.

Lisa Marie has also tried to remove her name from the address at the reserve with Manitoba Hydro, to no avail. To this day, she receives Hydro bills for her side of the duplex unit. The Sun has a photo of the October bill.

The relationship between the RCMP and the First Nation is unclear, as is the relationship between the band and Manitoba Hydro.

When the Sun was asking questions of the RCMP in October related to Gambler, as well as David and his close family, we received a call from the policing organization. On that call, concern was expressed that the Sun was targeting David, who sits on the Prairie Mountain RCMP’s Safer Communities Committee.

The RCMP did confirm, however, that a report was made to them concerning allegations related to sexual and physical abuse at Gambler. The question posed involved the Ledoux family members — David, Rose and Kellie.

"However, for privacy reasons, we will not confirm who made the report or who these allegations are related to as these allegations are still being investigated and remain allegations at this point," stated Seel.

Ronnie Ducharme, who hasn’t had water at his house for two years, also has Manitoba Hydro issues.

While he was away at Brandon University, the leadership tried to take his house, he said. Roxanne Brass, David’s sister, was present when Ducharme spoke with the Sun. She said this allegation is truthful, but that the members of Gambler who were offered the house declined the offer to take over the home.

"They (band members) won’t do it because they won’t do that to him (Ronnie)," Brass said.

This report of attempts of a house being seized is supported by other similar reports, based on interviews with the Sun.

"I had no control over my electrical, my power, and they racked it up. I was a student, and they didn’t pay the bill. I had no control over my hydro bill because they were in charge of it. They sent me the bill afterwards. But they paid that off now, they cleared that up — after I argued over it," Ducharme said.

During that time, however, the housing manager sent him a letter dated Dec. 31, 2019.

"The band will be removing the transformer from the pole, therefore there will be no Hydro at this location. I will inform you of when this will be taking place and you will have 7 days to remove your personal belongings from the property," Gambler’s then housing manager Harlene Swain stated.

The Sun sought clarification via email from Manitoba Hydro.

Manitoba Hydro stated, "as this appears to be a matter between the band and one of its members. Manitoba Hydro is not in a position to comment."

A further question about which entity the transformers belong to has gone unanswered. Questions about Lisa Marie’s billing situation also went unanswered.

Part three of this series on Gambler First Nation will appear in the Sun later this week.

Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun