Chief Kurt Burnstick, who is charged with sexual assault, adamant he won’t resign
By Andrea Huncar, CBC News, September 15, 2016
Women, men, elders and youth marched through the Alexander First Nation Thursday calling for the resignation of Chief Kurt Burnstick, who is charged with sexually assaulting two women in the community.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Chief Burnstick has to go,” chanted dozens of protesters, most wearing red in acknowledgement of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Some had red hands painted over their mouths while many carried signs with slogans such as “Our bodies are not public property.”
“We are asking Kurt Burnstick to resign as chief,” said Janet Campbell, spokesperson for the Alexander Women Warriors, the group that organized the rally in the community northwest of Edmonton.
“Our community has suffered a lot of abuse and we’re at the point now where we can stand up, where we have a voice, and we’re saying, ‘No more’.”
In March of this year, police charged Burnstick with one count of sexual assault for an alleged incident in October 2015. Earlier this month, CBC News learned Burnstick faced two new sexual assault charges after another woman in the community came forward over alleged attacks in 1985.
“Our bodies are not public property and we want people to stand up against sexual violence,” said Angel Auigbelle, 16, before the march began, adding she was “a bit nervous.”
“But I’m proud that I’m holding up this sign telling everyone to support us and be with us through sexual violence.”
Rally organizers said many women who wanted to attend the rally stayed away because of a memo distributed one day earlier to all department staff employees.
“We do not condone you attending the ‘Women Warrior’ march tomorrow,” reads the memo provided by organizers. “If they do attend instead of attending at work, please be aware there will be repercussions in regards to being disciplined up to and including termination for just cause.”
Supporter Don Burnstick criticized local leadership for a “bullying type of mentality” and a “systemic misogynistic attitude toward women.”
“I’m here to support my sisters,” said Burnstick, who grew up in Alexander but lives in Edmonton, adding he’s not related to the chief. “I’m so proud of these women, because when women come together there’s power.”
The march ended outside the band office where group leaders met with three councillors before Coun. Allen Paul addressed the crowd.
“Today is a message that we also have to take the sacred right that we must do as people and that’s to protect the women,” Paul said as the crowd whooped in response.
He said they would meet with legal counsel to see what steps could be pursued.
But on Thursday afternoon, the chief issued a defiant statement, refusing to step down.
“While I take the issue of sexual assault very seriously, I deny the allegations made against me, and will vigorously defend myself in court,” Burnstick said in the statement.
“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.”
Campbell pledged to “rally bigger and in a more public place” in the future, but said she worries about the consequences for fellow protesters.
“It took a lot of courage to come.”