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FIRST NATIONS

Occupation of Burns Lake band’s office ends Add to ...

The around-the-clock occupation of the Burns Lake Indian Band’s office that started on March 25 has ended peacefully.

Protesters had been occupying the building – an old high school – for the last two weeks because some residents were concerned about how the current council leadership was spending money.

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There was a lack of transparency within the council, said Ryan Tibbetts, a former councillor who was part of the protest.

Although the building is supposed to be a community centre, some people didn’t feel comfortable there, he said. “But since the occupation, we’ve had lots of band members in there, and we were able to use the gym,” he said.

“It was a community place again.”

However, Councillor Dan George said Mr. Tibbetts was pursuing his own political agenda as a former councillor.

“Everything he’s protesting is exactly what he didn’t do for the band in the whole 20 years he was here,” he said.

Mr. George also said the RCMP had previously been called only when band members were unruly, and that the people who were complaining about a lack of community participation don’t attend the monthly council meetings.

On Sunday morning, the RCMP served protesters a notice that said if they didn’t leave the office immediately, they would be charged with assault by trespass.

According to Mr. Tibbetts, about 50 RCMP officers surrounded the building as seven protesters, including three children, were led out by police.

RCMP spokeswoman Constable Lesley Smith said that because of concerns more protesters might show up, police had ensured there were enough officers on hand, although she wouldn’t confirm the exact number.

“We were prepared for the large number of protesters that were possibly attending, should they become violent,” Constable Smith said.

She said the RCMP had been working with protesters throughout the week to achieve a peaceful resolution.

“But the group refused to move, so we took the next step,” she said.

Although no charges were laid on Sunday, the Burns Lake RCMP continue to investigate an incident that occurred on March 25 when Mr. George was allegedly assaulted by Mr. Tibbetts.

Community members are requesting Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada conduct a third-party financial review and audit of the Burns Lake Band office.

The office has been turned back over to the Burns Lake Band’s council, but it will have a security company for the next month, Mr. George said.

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