[SISIS note: Terminal City is a semi-alternative weekly newspaper in Vancouver. During the standoff, they attempted to side-step the RCMP media blockade by publishing whatever they could get their hands on about the standof -- mostly information from the internet.]
With most Canadian television viewers, I watched what was portrayed as a reckless rebel stand at Gustafsen Lake in the summer of 1995. Canadians lamented what seemed to be the escalation of native militancy. British Columbian popular opinion endorsed the mobilization of a huge R.C.M.P. force to disperse a group of twenty one Sundancers from a campground which they had never been lawfully ceded. News coverage did not detail the history of this land nor its original people, the Shuswap Nation.
Further inquiry has revealed a different picture from the one conveyed directly from R.C.M.P spokesmen to media, who were told all media reports should be conduits of the R.C.M.P version of events. I am told that this was stated directly to reporters.
In 1989, Percy Rosette, a Shuswap nation elder informed American cattle rancher Lyle James that spiritual leaders had seen visions of a Sundance site at Gustafsen Lake and would use this area, a Shuswap burial ground, as the site for an annual Sundance ceremony. James has grazing rights to some the land in this area but it has not been proven that he owns this land, which is located in the interior of British Columbia. The Sundance took place with little or no controversy. In 1991, William Jones Ignace, better known by his Shuswap name, Wolverine, sought redress in regards to these and other "stolen unceded lands" by the International Court in the Hague. No resolution was reached and twice over the next two years he sought redress through the United Nations and petitioned for an independent tribunal to address the fact that the Shuswap have never negotiated a treaty and therefore have legal rights to their land.
Wolverine is an impassioned speaker versed in Canada's constitutional law as it relates to native jurisdiction. I have heard him address the court room in Surrey where he sits on trial for unsubstantiated charges ranging from mischief to attempted murder. For years previous to the Gustafsen Lake "stand-off," many Shuswap people have made attempts to access their rights to third-party tribunal. They have been denied this right which is enshrined in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and reinscribed in Trudeau's 1982 Constitution Act.
This document stated that "aboriginal people cannot legally be molested or disturbed by newcomer governments, their courts or their citizens, not upon any Lands whatever which were not ceded to the crown." In addition, an extinguishment of aboriginal rights is valid only if the intent of the particular Indian community to cede or to sell is arrived at in a "Public Meeting or Assembly" and then recorded in a contract that describes with legal accuracy the land being ceded." This transfer must then be signed by the community's leaders. King George implemented this measure to secure his alliance with native nations that helped England win military battles with New France a century before Confederation. Previous to, during, and since the "stand-off", members of the Shuswap nation have petitioned for the sort of impartial mediation mechanism created by Queen Anne in 1704. In that year, a special Constitutional Court was set up at the request of the Mohegan Indians to mediate their dispute with the colony of Connecticut. Queen Anne ruled that the newcomers court system could not be seen to be independent and impartial in a dispute between the parties. When Bruce Clark, Wolverine's attorney, raised this issue withe the Canadian Governor General on August fifteenth, he was told to apply too the Canadian courts and government for relief, "the alleged criminals themselves," Clark noted. During the summer of 1995 the "stand off" was portrayed as a reckless rebel stand by natives "seized with a cult mentality." (Mike Harcourt) This attitude points towards the hard line taken by the N.D.P. politicians, especially B.C. Attorney General Ujal Dosanj. He refused to acknowledge petitions for third party adjudication stating that "Gustafsen Lake has nothing to do with aboriginal land claims issues. It's purely to do with the weapons found there and the shots that have been fired." He recanted on November 7, acknowledging that it is a land claims issue but also asserting that method to forward their goals is wrong. In the short time that Gustafson Lake captured the media spotlight, the provincial N.D.P. catapulted from dead last to such popularity that they drafted an election writ. Public support, especially in the interior for the 'warlike tactics' (Globe and Mail October 8, 1996) employed by the provincial government buoyed Harcourt to the point where he was poised for an election until the "bingo-gate" scandal hit within the month. The largest mobilization of the R.C.M.P. in history is under public scrutiny in the courtroom where I sat with eight or nine Shuswap supporters and, occasionally, a reporter from the all-news radio station. Only since video footage of the detonation of a truck at the camp by an R.C.M.P. command mine and footage of discussions regarding a "smear" campaign have come to light have major media begun to attend the trial where members of the R.C.M.P. are incriminating themselves on the stand.
Although R.C.M.P. spin doctors styled the military action at Gustafsen Lake as initiated by armed insurgents, one R.C.M.P. officer under cross-examination testified in January, 1996 [sic] that military action was planned in May, two months before the recently acknowledged 'smear campaign' painted a picture of the Gustafsen Lake camp members as radical criminals. An 120-page report details this smear campaign which was channelled through R.C.M.P. spokesman Peter Montague. On R.C.M.P. video tape taken at Gustafsen Lake, Montague states, "Smear campaigns are our specialty." On August 18, a press conference was held where U.S. rancher Lyle James was styled as the owner of this land, although it has been revealed that no legal survey has been done there and James himself is vague about where his grazing right begin, and the land he claims to own begins. Guns found in the truck of a native man charged with a fishing infraction a week earlier were also shown at this press conference. The intent was to show that there were dangerous people in the camp. "On the same day eight camouflaged and fully armed men were happened upon by a member of the Sundance camp in the bush. Thinking that they might be red-neck vigilantes bent upon killing the indians, Sundancers phoned the R.C.M.P around seven A.M. 'No Sundancer fired any shot at one of the men.' (Ts'Peten Defender's Press Release August 22, 1995) Splitting the Sky who figures prominently in the Defenders press material spoke at the S.F.U. Harbour Center campus recently and stated that "Neo-Nazi sympathizers in Percy's area associated with right-wing militia have admitted to killing native people." In this context an armed but defensive protection of land seems logical. (According to court testimony over 20,000 shots were fired at the camp and 104 from the camp.) R.C.M.P. officers have appeared very nervous and rattled during recent court proceedings at the high-security court room in Surrey. Ts'Peten (the Native name for the Gustafsen Lake area) Defenders encourage interested parties to attend as the truth of the R.C.M.P. disinformation campaign has been emerging. A plane of protective glass separates the judges, sheriffs, defence attorneys and jurors from the gallery where I sit in awe of the evolving weight of evidence that truth was the first casualty in this case.
"It sure felt like a war," according to one R.C.M.P. officer. The largest mobilization of the R.C.M.P ever is under scrutiny in this courtroom where official transcripts are being compiled, which provide a clearer view of the events of the August 1995 "siege." These transcripts, however, have not been made easily accessible to the public. I have gone to great lengths to secure them. I was told by the Surrey court clerk that I could only have access to a copy of the charges and some other supporting documents but not the transcripts themselves. I was unsatisfied by this so she referred me to a Lawyers Referral Service. I called them and they said they couldn't help me because they are simply a Lawyers Referral Service. I was given another phone number which landed me in an endless maze of voice activated options. I then tried the Law Society of B.C. At their local office they asked me why I was calling the Vancouver office regarding a trial taking place in Surrey? He was terse, unhelpful and filled me with the most frustration I've felt since the last time I dealt with students loan people. In desperation, I called back the people in Surrey.
This time they told me that the Surrey court room where the trial was taking place was being rented from the New Westminster Court House. I tried them. It costs 4.50 a page if documents have not been previously released or $1.50 if they have. Obtaining one witness's testimony would cost approximately four hundred dollars. Some "access to information.' A journalist who was in the camp and has been charged in this mass trial of twenty one defendants has been keeping court notes and updating a web site. (It can be accessed at web: http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/SISmain.html)
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