Apr 3/97: Gustafsen Lake-Ovide Mercredi = Hero or Disgrace?


Advocating for "Native Rights" rings hollow in dealings with Ts'peten Defenders

Settlers In Support of Indigenous Sovereignty
April 3, 1997

Ovide Mercredi, retiring national chief of the Assembly of First Nations begins a tour of Europe today to advocate for Native Rights.

This is something Mercredi was spectacularly unwilling to do during the siege at Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake), the 1995 incident in which the largest police/army operation in Canadian history surrounded a small group of indigenous traditionalists and their supporters who were defending sacred Sundance and burial grounds from desecration by local cowboys. The Canadian state sided with the white attackers, and brought in armoured personnel carriers, fifty-calibre machine guns, hollow-tipped bullets and land mines to force the Sundancers off the land.

At that time, Shuswap elder Wolverine told Mercredi that he could be "a national Indian hero, or a national Indian disgrace," and asked Mercredi to sign a petition demanding that Canada allow the issue of jurisdiction over lands that Indigenous Nations never sold or surrendered to go before an international tribunal.

Mercredi chose instead to collaborate with a demonization campaign by police and authorities, publically accusing the Sundancers of "criminal acts...attempted murder that cannot be condoned and it will not be supported by Indians across the land," and describing the Sundance camp as "not safe for anybody, including the national chief." (Vancouver Province, August 28, 1995)

Mercredi continued his efforts to impugn the Ts'peten Defenders after the standoff. Speaking to students in Red River College, Winnipeg, he said:

"In Gustafsen Lake last year, no university students were there, no college students, no leaders. There was no one there who had a job or a future....They were a group of people frustrated to the point where they had no loyalty to anyone, no loyalties even to their own people." (Windspeaker, April 1996)
As Mercredi travels abroad, Wolverine is spending his 18th month imprisoned without bail for more than a year and a half, as the Sundancers trial continues in Surrey, BC.

One thing is certain, as elected head of a federally funded body composed of Indian Act Chiefs and councillors, an imposed and alien system, it is an open question who Mercredi actually represents.

"Ovide Mercredi is stepping down as the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The 51 year old Cree lawyer said native Indians are no better off now than when he was first elected to head the country's most powerful native organization six years ago and he warns that native patience is wearing thin.

"I haven't seen any victories for the Indian people during my term as national chief," he said in an interview Monday. He said the poverty of the Indian people since the Liberals have been in office has increased. Mercredi said he is stepping aside from his $85,000-a-year job to make way for new leadership. He said he has not made any plans for the future,"but I doubt the Liberals will be offering me a job."

- "Mercredi Quitting First Nations Post", Sun News Service, February 11, 1997
"I'd like to be an ambassador somewhere...somewhere like Australia or New Zealand where they speak English."

- Mercredi, quoted in a Canadian Press interview "Weary Mercredi would like to represent Canada abroad," June 11, 1995

Back to SIS