Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Band protesters may lose homes

Buffalo Point chief wants them evicted

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Some Buffalo Point protesters involved in a sit-in at the First Nation's band offices for the last three weeks now face eviction from their reserve apartments.

"I have a two-year-old and a three-year-old and it says I have to vacate the building. I don't know where I'm going to go and it's the middle of winter," said Leah Richard, citing a legal ultimatum protesters were served with Wednesday morning.

Richard said she believes the chief, John Thunder, is trying to intimidate protesters into leaving the band office, but taking away her home isn't the way to do it, she said. She's more determined than ever to stay put.

"I'm not leaving the band office," Richard vowed. "I started this and I'm going to finish it."

Thunder did not respond to an email request for comment and a lawyer for the band did not immediately return a call.

Developments Wednesday appear related to a civil lawsuit filed against Richard and more than a dozen other band members who have been occupying the band office in shifts for three weeks.

In a statement of claim filed in the Court of Queen's Bench Nov. 2, the chief warned the protesters he would seek a permanent injunction preventing them from trespassing on any band-owned property. The claim listed the "museum, governance centre, maintenance compound, fire hall, conference centre, cabins, motel (and) apartment building in or near Buffalo Point."

The claim states the band does not recognize the protesters as band members and declares them trespassers.

The protest began after a dispute over a vote on land three weeks ago. Since then, 18 people have occupied the band office in shifts. They include families such as Richard, her two little boys and several other adults and elders.

Richard, her children and two elders involved in the protest live nearby in the apartment building cited in the band's injunction request. Two elders, ages 81 and 83, may also lose their homes in the apartment building, she said.

Elliott Cobiness, a spokesman for the protesters, said the group staged the sit-in after eligible band voters were turned away from the polls Oct. 18 and 19 without being allowed to cast votes in a referendum. The protesters are demanding Ottawa oust Thunder as chief. So far, the federal aboriginal affairs department has not released a public statement about the dispute.

Thunder called for a referendum in October on new land arrangements 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. He is also reported to be trying to impose property taxes on band members.

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.

Wednesday, protesters reported that two RCMP officers arrived at the band office. The officers remained on the scene throughout the day but only to keep the peace and they did not plan any arrests, an RCMP spokesman in Winnipeg said. It appeared the purpose of the RCMP presence was to provide an escort for two band councillors to deliver their legal ultimatum.

Ordinarily, families and older band members involved in the sit-in arrive at the band office and occupy it from approximately 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2012 A6

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