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Protesters take over band office


The band office at Rainy River First Nation planned to re-open Wednesday even though protesters have vowed to continue occupying it in an effort to secure housing for elder Genevieve McGinnis in the new apartment complex there.

The protest began Monday at noon, and protesters still were occupying the office as of press time Tuesday night.

“If we don’t get any answers, we’re going to continue to occupy the building,” vowed McGinnis’ daughter, Leona.

The protest has been peaceful so far, with the First Nation Police Service assuring they will be available to keep the peace.

The protesters presented Rainy River Chief Gary Medicine with tobacco and a letter outlining their complaints on Monday. Chief Medicine said the band council would discuss the housing matter at its monthly meeting in March.

“We’re not going to be holding special meetings,” he noted last night. “We do not feel it is in the community’s best interest to attempt to resolve internal community matters in the public.

“Those occupying the administration offices have been assured that all answers to their questions and concerns are available to them as community members.

“Every attempt has been made to dialogue, reason, and communicate with them. They have turned away all attempts,” Chief Medicine charged.

He also said housing is available for McGinnis there.

“It’s not the new complex, it’s at the seniors’ complex,” he noted. “That place has been ready to go, it’s been inspected. It’s not like this lady has been turfed out.”

Genevieve McGinnis said she’s been waiting for an apartment in the new complex since August of last year, but added she’s been given the run-around by Chief Medicine and some band councillors.

“I was the first applicant to apply for residency and was led to believe there would be no problem. Since then, I have been humiliated by having to resubmit applications,” she said.

“In November, I attended a council meeting to have my application addressed and again was led to believe that I was going to get an apartment.

“I was advised to give my two months’ notice to vacate my residence in Fort Frances as required,” McGinnis said, which she did.

McGinnis, who turns 72 this month, moved out of her Fort Frances residence at the end of January. Previously, she had lived at Manitou Rapids with her husband but when he died in June, 2000, she moved to Fort Frances because she found it difficult to live alone in the house.

In August of last year, she became ill and wanted to move back to Manitou to be near her family.

“I always hoped to return home to Manitou to be near my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and relatives,” McGinnis said.

In January, she attended another council meeting to have her application addressed again.

“Because of my notice to vacate my residence in Fort Frances, I had to move by Jan. 31, 2002. My furniture and belongings are being stored at my children’s homes in Manitou,” she explained.

“Today I am homeless. I take turns sleeping at my children’s homes.

“On Monday, Feb. 18, 2002, I attended another council meeting. Once again, the chief and council made it clear that I was not going to get an apartment,” she said.

“I am a bag lady with no home.”

The McGinnis family phoned Indian Affairs minister and local MP Robert Nault last week and faxed a letter of complaint to his department.

But Joseph Young, acting director for funding services for Indian Affairs in Thunder Bay, said the disagreement does not come under his department’s powers per se, but added they will monitor the situation.

“It is a First Nation responsibility,” Young said. “They have policies to follow. My understanding is that the band is meeting on this today [Tuesday] and we’re hoping they’re going to reach an agreement.”

Chief Medicine said he has encouraged all band members to speak with councillors and himself about their concerns.

“Thus far, we have not been able to come to an agreement as to how this situation can be resolved,” he noted. “I have asked for the guidance of the whole community.”

The protesters brought food and drinks with them Monday afternoon and said they were prepared to stay until they received answers from council.

Supporters arrived steadily throughout the day, with some leaving for work and then returning after their shifts were done.

Chief Medicine left the office almost immediately after the protesters arrived.

As of press time yesterday, the protesters still hadn’t met with the band council and were prepared to stay a second night in the office.

Chief Medicine said the office staff would continue to make every attempt to provide essential services, such as medical transportation, medical appointments, and matters related to education and child welfare, to all band members during the occupation.

“As chief, I wish to apologize to the community for any inconvenience to the many that might result from the actions of a few,” he noted in a press release issued yesterday evening.

“I have told those staff who don’t wish to work under those conditions that they will not face any sanctions against them for making that choice,” he added.

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