Group wants to keep focus on ousting Chief

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 4:49pm

By Shari Narine
Sweetgrass Contributing Editor

September 20, 2016.

Janet Campbell says it is important that the focus stay on Alexander First Nation Chief Kurt Burnstick and the sexual assault charges that he faces.

“It’s really difficult to move forward and keep focussed on our issue, which is… the indignity of having (Burnstick) represent our community when he’s caused so much harm,” said Campbell, spokesperson for the Alexander Women Warriors. “Our community is also dealing with other issues and it’s so easy for people to misdirect what is happening because of all those other issues.”

Campbell and members of the group met Monday night to plan their next step after what she considers a successful rally last Thursday. Over 100 people came out – men and women, supporters from Fort McKay First Nation, and two other First Nations, as well as from Edmonton and surrounding area – to call for Burnstick’s resignation. Even band staff and administration, who were presented with an unsigned memo saying they could not participate in the rally, stood outside their offices and cheered on the group.

Burnstick is facing three sexual assault charges, some dating as far back as 1985. He has three pending court dates -- a pre-trial conference scheduled for Edmonton on Sept. 30, with that case going to trial Jan. 11-13, 2017, in St. Albert; and Oct. 18, in Morinville, for the most recent sexual assault charges -- and the next rally will coincide with one of those dates, says Campbell.

“We’re trying to figure out when the best impact will be,” she said.

The Alexander First Nation faces a variety of other issues including high unemployment, substance and drug abuse, leadership and political issues, and poverty.

Among the political issues, says Campbell, is Burnstick’s proponents accusing her of carrying a vendetta because her brother, Herbert Arcand, lost out to Burnstick in the election as Chief.

“This is not a personal or political thing,” said Campbell, who calls the allegations “childish.”

What she does emphasize is that all the social and political factors that face Alexander First Nation leads to sexual and physical violence against women.

Campbell says that since the Alexander Women Warriors became more vocal, the number of women coming forward and saying they have been the victims of physical and sexual violence has been growing.

“It’s making us realize that the misogyny in our community has to stop, that women have to regain their voice and that our group is really important just for support, safety. Our group is becoming very important and I think it’s becoming a lifeline to other women, who are at that point where they want to begin their own healing,” she said.

To that end, the Alexander Women Warriors have teamed up with the Saffron Centre, out of Sherwood Park, to host a two-hour workshop on Saturday. The workshop will be educational, focusing on what constitutes sexual assault. Campbell anticipates one-on-one counselling sessions will follow.

Campbell says it has become clear that Burnstick will not be resigning.

“There’s not much we can do. That’s a power issue, power and control. He’s a perpetrator and that’s kind of one of their M.O.s,” she said. “We haven’t laid down and played dead. We’re still moving forward.”