A decades-long battle over voting rights on a southeastern Manitoba First Nation is now expected to reach a federal court.
Estranged members of Buffalo Point First Nation are planning to challenge Chief John Thunder under the little-used law of "quo warranto," where individuals can seek to remove leaders based on, in this case, their refusal to grant band members the right to elect their leader democratically.
"I think it's an injustice," said Winnipeg lawyer Norman Boudreau, who is representing a group of Buffalo Point residents who have long attempted to oust Thunder. "It's pretty disgusting nobody in Buffalo Point is entitled to a democratic election. It's a breach of human rights."
Buffalo Point has for years been embroiled in a legal standoff between Thunder and disgruntled band members banished from the community in the far southeast corner of the province.
Thunder and his father, Jim, have sat as chief of the band for 40-plus years. The band has operated under custom law, where leadership is hereditary.
However, another group of band members elected Andrea Camp in April. Those members argue Thunder should either be removed or face an election covering the entire band, which includes only a few dozen members.
Thunder could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Camp, a respiratory therapist at Misericordia Hospital, was elected by those band members banned by court injunction from entering community facilities. That injunction was upheld by a Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench judge last year.
Camp said residents opposed to Thunder believe the chief is using federal funds, up to $1.2 million a year, essentially to finance family businesses, such as a golf course and restaurant.
"There's no infrastructure for us," she said. "Everything goes to his immediate family. Everything."
Camp said her group is also challenging the hereditary claims of the Thunder family, whose formal surname is Conover. "Calling themselves hereditary (First Nations) is an insult," she said.
Still, Camp conceded the federal challenge may only be another dead end in a series of protests.
"He's above the law," she said. "He answers to no one. It's something we have to try. We're divided by geography, but we're not conquered."