GUSTAFSEN LAKE -- A splinter group of native Indians vow they will only leave their illegal encampment in body bags.
The statement came Monday as RCMP continued preparations to evict the group calling itself Defenders of the Shuswap Nation.
The rebel natives, whose actions have been denounced by the local tribal council, have occupied an area of the James Lake Ranch 35 kilometres west of 100 Mile House since June. Tensions have escalated since then, and boiled over Friday when a native fired a shot that narrowly missed the head of a RCMP officer.
One of the rebels, an older man who identified himself only as Wolverine, said Monday the RCMP are the terrorists -- not his group. And he said private landholders are squatters on native land.
"[Police] and the media, you are all part of the New World Order. They'll have to take us out in body bags," said Wolverine.
He said his group wants to attract international media attention so they can have an audience with Queen Elizabeth and be heard in an international court.
Representatives of the Cariboo Tribal Council denounced the fringe group as outsiders and said they are afraid the group will tarnish the image of native people and harm the land-claims process.
About 20 natives are at the Gustafsen Lake site and they have been joined by about 10 non-natives who call themselves supporters of the sovereigntists.
The non-natives filmed and photographed reporters and frequently interjected lectures about the history of native oppression as reporters attempted to interview the group.
"The RCMP have a choice: they can listen or they can kill us, and that way they'll show their true colors," said one unidentified non-native woman at the camp.
Agnes Snow of the Cariboo Tribal Council does not welcome this kind of support from native or non-native people.
"In speaking to the people from our community, if there should be any defending of our territory, it should be coming from us, not these outsiders," she said.
Snow added, "It's not just the chief or elected officials, it is the community members, the elders, the chief. All of the northern Shuswap stand together on this."
She said the council is honoring private property rights in the treaty process with the province and federal government. The Gustafsen Lake site is traditional native territory, but rights are best negotiated peacefully, Snow said.
Cariboo elders have twice attempted to discuss the standoff with the rebel natives, but both times were told of the group's demand to meet with the queen.
Percy Rochette [sic] is a spiritual leader and pipe carrier for the rebels at the encampment. He said the dispute is not about land claims, but the spiritual significance of the site where the Sundance ceremony is held.
"It's a sacred ceremony where we pray," Rochette said.
"I believe there is no border on spirituality. That's what the governments are trying to do. We don't go to church."
There was a four-year agreement with Lyle James, owner of the ranch, for natives to use the shores of Gustafsen Lake for 10 days every year for the Sundance ceremony.
Natives come from across Canada and the U.S. to attend the ceremony. There was some trouble in 1992 when shots were fired at a tourist.
The agreement expired last year, but the ceremony went ahead this summer in June. Some of the rebels are sundancers who refused to leave when the ceremony ended.
Upper Nicola Chief Scotty Holmes said he was approached by the group, but does not support its activities. He noted the lack of empathy for the rebels from members of the Shuswap community.
Holmes added that he has heard one or two older people are behaving in a dictatorial fashion at the site, and are controlling the younger people. Holmes says he disagrees with this type of approach, and would only become involved if asked to mediate a settlement.
Snow said a native officer working under the direction of the Canim Lake Indian Band is involved in the plans being made by RCMP to confront and, if necessary, arrest the rebels.
Sgt. Peter Montague said the situation at Gustafsen Lake is different from other standoffs involving B.C. natives earlier this summer at Douglas Lake Ranch and Adams Lake.
Police have seized a semi-automatic pistol, AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons they say belong to the natives at Gustafsen Lake.
Montague noted the rebels willingness to use their weapons to fire at a police officer. Police said they also fired six shots into the air when provincial forestry workers came to the site in June.
"With Adams Lake and Douglas Lake, there are legitimate native concerns that were addressed under due process in the courts," Montague said.
"Those positions had the support of most of the native community. At Gustafsen Lake, they have no support whatsoever."
Montague warned supporters of the Gustafsen rebels that they are trespassing on private property.
The police are taking such factors into account as they plan a way to resolve the dispute, he said. Criminal investigations also continue into the shootings.
Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh said the situation needs to be handled delicately.
He refused to directly answer questions about the RCMP's characterization of the group as terrorists.
"It's appropriate that we conduct ourselves in a public way that does not aggravate the situation," he said.
Dosanjh said he is in touch with the RCMP but is leaving the matter in their hands.
"It's important this be dealt with in a way that minimizes any danger to any lives and I'm certain the RCMP are aware of that concern," he said.
"I'm concerned there be a very strong message to these individuals for them to leave the area so this matter can be resolved peacefully."
But he said the appetite in some quarters for more dramatic action won't be heeded.
"It's important for people to recognize that this is British Columbia, this is Canada, this is not the U.S. and this is not Waco, Texas. I think it's important that we deal with these issues in the most sensitive fashion possible, that force be used only as a last resort."
He said that doesn't mean the justice system will turn a blind eye to the violence that has taken place in this dispute.
"If you use violence to attain any political or proprietary end I think it's abhorrent, it's condemnable -- it's unacceptable in British Columbia."
Much of what Wolverine and his supporters said Monday echo the arguments of controversial lawyer Bruce Clark.
Clark says that the entire province of B.C. remains native land because aboriginal title wasn't extinguished in 1875 when the province joined confederation. As a result, the provincial government can't legally issue deeds to land, and the RCMP and courts have no jurisdiction, he says.
Clark also maintains that the present system of elected band councils and native organizations do not reflect the traditional hereditary system and therefore should not be at the land claims bargaining table.
A young rebel who identified himself as OJ said the accounts of forestry officials and RCMP being shot at are misinterpretation.
He also claimed the shot fired Friday morning at an RCMP officer's head was a warning shot into the air.
"They are going to say anything to the press to make us look bad in the public eye."
The attorney-general says police will move on an encampment of armed natives only if they have no option.
"This is not Waco, Texas," Ujjal Dosanjh said yesterday. "I think it's important that we deal with these issues in the most sensitive fashion possible, that force be used only as a last resort."
The natives are camped on private land near Gustafsen Lake, west of 100 Mile House.
For years, the ranch allowed natives to use the site for sundance ceremonies. It evicted them this year after a series of disputes, but the natives have defied the order.
RCMP say the five to 15 natives are terrorists who are behind five shooting incidents since the middle of June. In the latest, last week, a bullet just missed a Mountie's head.
Police have seized an AK-47 assault rifle and a semi-automatic pistol and charged two members of the group with weapons offences.
The militants' lawyer, Bruce Clark of Ottawa, says the natives are heroes, not terrorists, prepared to die for their cause.
He said they don't recognize elected tribal governments because elections are a white man's invention that take away from the traditional system of hereditary chiefs.
Clark said the natives know lives could be lost but argue "thousands upon thousands of Indian lives have been, and are being, lost" because of the system the group is fighting.
"My clients' intent at Gustafsen Lake is to save many lives at the risk of their own," said Clark. "That's heroism, not terrorism."
A former camp member named Splitting The Sky said chiefs never ceded the land to Canada, so the natives have to answer only to a 1763 treaty drawn up with the monarchy.
Like any sovereign nation, he said, they have a right to arm themselves to turn away invaders.
Asked if outside agitators are fuelling the conflict, he said: "No matter where an Indian is from, we're all of one single blood."
The Cariboo tribal council yesterday condemened the militants, who call themselves "defenders of the Shuswap nation."
"We don't know for sure who these people are...but we do know who they are not," said the council.
"They are not 'defenders of the Shuswap nation' and they are not sundancers."
"It is not just a few people or one community that condemns this group. The community members, elders, chiefs and councillors of all the northern Shuswap stand together on this."