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Alberta First Nation women hold rally after another sex assault charge laid against chief

Click to play video: 'Protesters call for Alberta First Nation chief to step down in wake of sexual assault charges' Protesters call for Alberta First Nation chief to step down in wake of sexual assault charges
WATCH ABOVE: Band members on the Alexander First Nation are demanding their chief step down. Chief Kurt Burnstick is facing three sexual assault charges in two separate cases. On Thursday, dozens of protesters marched to the band office to demand action. Kent Morrison reports – Sep 15, 2016

In the wake of new sex assault charges being laid against the chief of a First Nation north of Edmonton, a group calling itself the Alexander Women Warriors held a rally Thursday to express outrage over the fact he still represents them.

Dozens of protesters carried signs condemning sexual violence and calling for the removal of Kurt Burnstick, chief of the Alexander First Nation.

“This is the second occurrence in which Kurt Burnstick has been charged with sexual assault of two Alexander women over the past six months,” the group said in a statement sent to Global News earlier in the week.

In March, Morinville RCMP announced Burnstick had been charged with one count of sexual assault as a result of an investigation that began in December 2015. They said the victim was a woman the chief knows. That case is scheduled for trial beginning on Jan. 11 in St. Albert.

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READ MORE: Alberta First Nation chief charged with sexual assault

 

 

On Tuesday, Global News confirmed Burnstick was also charged with two more counts of sexual assault as well as one count of break and enter with intent in connection with a separate alleged incident.

Burnstick is scheduled to appear in court on the most recently laid charges on Oct. 18 in Morinville.

According to the Alexander Women Warriors, the newest allegations against Burnstick stem from 1985.

On Thursday, three council members met the group at the band office. The group said election rules leave them powerless in deciding if the chief can be forced out.
The current rules don’t allow council to take action against the chief.

 

Chief Burnstick released a statement to Global News Thursday afternoon to say he has no intentions of giving up his position.

“Sexual assault is a very serious problem all across Canada, especially in First Nations communities,” the statement said in part. “While I take the issue of sexual assault very seriously, I deny the allegations made against me, and will vigorously defend myself in court.

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“As the elected leader of the Alexander First Nation people, I believe strongly in the democratic principle and the presumption of innocence. I will not be stepping down and I ask the people of Alexander to continue to support and respect each other. Alexander is a great place to live and I’m proud to be from here.”

Band staff were allegedly handed a memo that threatened termination if they attended Thursday’s rally.

In March, Global News received a statement from the Alexander First Nation saying it had issued a “complete and total media blackout” less than a week after Edmonton media outlets reported the Burnstick was charged with sexual assault.

READ MORE: Alberta First Nation chief charged with sexual assault issues total media blackout

On Tuesday, the Alexander Women Warriors also provided Global News with minutes from a Sept. 6 First Nation council meeting in which councillors voted to approve a motion repealing the “media blackout” regarding Burnstick’s legal matters.

The Alexander Women Warriors said Burnstick has spoken publicly at the National Forum for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and that they “are deeply offended that he continues to represent our community at public forums.”

“We can no longer tolerate this hypocrisy,” the group said. “He makes a mockery of the issues that continue to harm indigenous women.”

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The group also said the allegations against Burnstick have “divided” their community and left it without a “structured leadership.”

Alexander First Nation is about 40 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

-With files from Caley Ramsay and Emily Mertz.

 

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