Grand Chief Edward John has been charged with four counts of having sexual intercourse with a female without her consent, the B.C. Prosecution Service has announced.
The alleged offences concern a single individual and date back to 1974 in Prince George, B.C.
Sexual intercourse with a female without her consent is a charge that existed in the 1974 version of the Criminal Code of Canada. There have been a number of revisions to the code since then, and that charge no longer exists under the current code.
John, 70, is the hereditary chief of the Tl'azt'en Nation, a former B.C. cabinet minister, prominent Indigenous leader and lawyer.
His first appearance is scheduled for Dec. 10 in provincial court in Prince George.
John was appointed to the B.C. cabinet as minister for children and families from November 2000 to June 2001.
He served 11 consecutive terms as an elected leader on the First Nations Summit Political Executive, a run that ended in June when he did not stand for re-election.
According to a statement from the First Nations Summit, John was a contracted adviser with FNS but his contract "was suspended immediately pending the outcome of this legal matter."
John served as an expert member on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and helped develop the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
According to the BCPS, special prosecutor Michael Klein was appointed on Feb. 22 by assistant deputy attorney general Peter Juk to look into the allegations and assess whether charges should be laid.
Wilf Adam, former chief of the Lake Babine First Nation, said he was shocked and devastated by the news.
"Children and especially woman are the foundation of the society and they must be protected at all times," he said.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said it was deeply disappointed to learn about the allegations, noting it does not have a direct employment relationship with John.
"The UBCIC acknowledges the depth, emotion and complexity of the issue of sexual assault and harassment, violence against Indigenous women, healing, and women's safety," the union said in a statement.
The union said it supports sexual abuse victims to come forward.