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Aboslute Discharge Granted Demonstrators

It was good news and bad news for Dolly Pratt and Winona Stevenson when Judge JCB Nutting handed down his decision in response to the charges laid a year ago related to the protests on post secondary education assistance.

Pratt and Stevenson were found guilty of wrongfully interfering with the lawful use of the office of Indian Affairs. However, the sentencing from Judge Nutting was an absolute discharge.

The incident took place last May during a national day of protest over the federal governments policy of capping post-secondary education benefits for Treaty Indian students.

Nine of the protestors, including Ms. Stevenson, chained themselves to the grate of elevator.

At 4:30, closing time, Tony Kachapski, the District Manager, told the demonstrators that the office was closed and asked them to leave. The demonstrators did not leave and he called in the police. Inspector Ed Grabowski, the Officer in Charge told the demonstrators to leave the building, and that failure to leave would result in their arrest on a charge of mischief.

It was so clear to the officer that the remaining nine demonstrators were not going to move and he instructed his officers to arrest each one, give them their rights and remove them. It was necessary to cut the chain with bolt cutters and physically remove the protestors by carrying them out of the premises as they were offering passive resistance.

It was also clear that the protestors had formed a common purpose to occupy and remain as long as necessary over the weekend for them to communicate, through the local officials, their demands that the federal Minister, Mr. Pierre Cadieux, rescind the unilateral decision to cap federal spending on post-secondary education and recognize this as a matter of a treaty right. The protestors were committed to remain until the minister personally responded to these demands.

Don Worme, an Indian lawyer in Saskatoon represented both defendants. Evidence was given on behalf of the defendants concerning the oral history and traditions associated with Treaty No. 6 as it related to the special status of aboriginal peoples in relation to the Government of Canada pertaining to the provision of services, and the special trust relationship between the Government of Canada and the aboriginal peoples of Canada in regard to the Department of Indian Affairs.

Evidence presented by Mr. Wilfred Tootoosis and Barry Ahenakew, shows that both accused had an honest belief that they had a right of ownership in the premises by virtue of the special fiduciary relationship between the federal government and the aboriginal peoples under Treaty No. 6. The legal obligation of the federal government under Treaty No. 6, as explained by oral history and tradition, afforded aboriginal people the right to take their concerns to the Indian agent who was placed on each reserve to assist aboriginal peoples in adjusting to the changes brought about by the entry into solemn treaty. The agents have since then been removed from reserve lands that the Indian Affairs office in the city now fulfils that obligation, and therefore the defendants had an honest belief in their right to occupy the federal offices until their demands were addressed by the Minister.

Stevenson holds the academic credentials of a B.A. (honours) from the University of Manitoba and A M.A., History, from U.B.C., and is an Assistant Professor of the Native Studies Department of the University of Saskatchewan. Pratt was a University student at the time of this occurrence.

The Elders held a special pipe ceremony and attended the court session in support of the students The Elders received a standing oviation when they entered the court room.

The students held several fund-raising events to raise money to pay their legal fees.