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Band office occupiers demand reserve chief's ouster

SIT-IN protesters at a southeastern Manitoba First Nation want a hereditary chief thrown out of office and elections called after a referendum dispute last week.

About 15 people, including a woman in her 80s, have been occupying the band office at Buffalo Point First Nation since Oct. 19.

Telephone and wireless service to the band office was disconnected Monday.

Elliott Cobiness of Winnipeg said his brother, Ernest, is among the group occupying the band office.

Elliott Cobiness said the group acted after eligible band voters were turned away from the polls Thursday and Friday without being allowed to cast votes in the referendum.

"This was the last straw and people said enough was enough... People don't want to deal with him anymore," Cobiness said. "They want democracy."

Buffalo Point Chief John Thunder called for a referendum on a new land code for the First Nation after the federal government granted it the freedom to opt out of land-related sections of the Indian Act in January.

"We're pushing for elections (under the Indian Act) because Buffalo Point is under a hereditary system," Elliott Cobiness said.

Buffalo Point, 175 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg on the shore of Lake of the Woods, is better known as the location of an upscale cottage development and resort.

Thunder is the adopted son of the former hereditary chief and his leadership has raised periodic headlines because of his heritage. He is Caucasian by birth.

Thunder was not available for comment.

Cottagers have also been at odds with the hereditary chief over property-tax hikes earlier this year.

That dispute is the subject of a case before the Federal Court of Canada, brought in July by the Buffalo Point Cottagers Association.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2012 A9

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