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Protesters must leave Buffalo Point band offices: lawyer

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Their homes are safe but protesters now face an extension to a temporary injunction to leave the Buffalo Point First Nation band offices, the focus of an occupation for the last three weeks.

Yesterday, Chief John Thunder won an eight-day extension to an injunction that ran out Wednesday, a Toronto lawyer for three of the protesters said Thursday.

"According to the order, they have to leave the band offices," lawyer Michael McClurg said.

At the same time, McClurg said protesters are no longer banned from returning to their band-owned apartments on the First Nation after negotiations with Thunder’s lawyers Thursday.

"The terms of the injunction are too restrictive," McClurg said. "We were able to negotiate with the lawyers for the band council so the people would be able to turn to their homes."

Eight people, including two toddlers, would have lost access to their homes without the change.

McClurg said the dispute goes back to court Nov. 23.

"This is actually part of a larger story, which is, that there is no democracy there. That’s up to the (federal) Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and they’ve taken a hands-off approach. The band members don’t trust Thunder and they don’t feel he represents their best interests," McClurg said.

The protest began Oct. 19 after status Indian band members were turned away from the polls Oct. 18 and 19 without being allowed to cast votes in a referendum about land use on the First Nation.

The protesters are demanding Ottawa oust Thunder as chief and call elections.

So far, the Aboriginal Affairs department has not released a public statement about the dispute.

Buffalo Point, 175 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg on the shores of the Lake of the Woods, is better known as the location for an upscale cottage development and resort. Non-native cottagers are reported to outnumber registered band members by four to one on the First Nation, protesters said.

There are 118 band members listed on the federal registry for Buffalo Point. There are an estimated 450 cottagers living on the First Nation, some for more than 30 years.

Thunder said in an email that he was determined to oust the band members and end the sit-in. That’s why he went back to court to ask for an extension to an injunction against the protesters, he said.

His lawyers issued a statement quoting him as saying the sit-in was hurting business on the reserve and scaring off investors.

Two band members, Elliott Cobiness and Robert Kakaygeesick, said Thursday they are also calling a general band meeting at the band office on Dec. 15 and they hope registered band members will make the trip to Buffalo Point.

Kakaygeesick, himself a former band councillor under Thunder, said the chief’s primary interest was to sign up cottagers for his resort. "All he wanted me to do was to sign leases," Kakaygeesick said.

There are 18 to 20 band members who were taking turns manning the occupation over the last several weeks. Two of them were elders, in their 80s. The youngest were two toddlers, aged two and three, whose mother is a protester. She was among the protesters who would have been turned away from her apartment under the terms of the injunction.

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