a-thunderchild-sundance-protest-womenCBC News, Aug 22, 2013

A dispute over traditional grounds continues to divide the Thunderchild First Nation.

This morning, a judge ruled that protestors must continue to stay away from seismic test sites near a traditional sundance ground. Protesters camped out at the grounds for several weeks, and said that testing was taking place on the grounds, desecrating them.

Chief and council, along with the testing company, said that testers were careful to avoid areas mapped out by elders.

One protester refused to leave the area and was arrested earlier this week.

Protester Andrea Armstrong says she’s disappointed with the judge’s decision.

“We are trying to save our sundance grounds,” she said. “These people don’t even realize what they’re doing. They’re destroying, they’re desecrating our land. They’re taking away our church.”

Allegations of violence

The lawyer representing the Thunderchild First Nation said a worker sent to guard the site was attacked this weekend.

“He was sitting in his car, and either with a baseball bat or a pipe, his driver’s side window was smashed in,” said lawyer Chris Boychuk. “He says the instrument barely missed his head, slammed into the head rest. And at the time there were verbal threats made on the life and safety of the chief.”

Meanwhile, protesters have said that if there was violence, they weren’t involved.

“There’s mostly women in our group here, and a lot of the women in our group are older women and the men were all older,” said protester Andrea Armstrong. “There’s no question, there’s absolutely no reason why we would be violent towards these people.”

Boychuk said RCMP were called but there have been no arrests so far.

Going forward

The fate of the protester arrested for not leaving the site will be decided on September 17. A judge will need to decide whether Marilyn Wapass violated a court order by refusing to leave the land.

He will also need to decide on whether any action will be taken by the court, which could include jail time.

The protesters plan to hold a ceremonial Horse Dance on the Thunderchild First Nation on Sunday.

In court, Justice Shawn Smith said everyone on the First Nation must work together to resolve this issue and to decide where the boundaries of the sundance grounds actually lie.

“This is a family dispute,” he said. “Courts rarely end those well. Families end those.”