Aug 29/95: Gustafsen Lake-tensions ease


Ernie Yacub
August 29, 1995

The tide is turning at the Sacred Sundance Ceremonial Grounds in Shuswap (Secwepemc) territory. The siege at Gustafsen Lake, now into its 6th day, is beginning to crack. [S.I.S.I.S. note: we date the start of the siege as August 19, not August 24.]

At the beginning, there was every indication that the police were going to invade the camp as soon as the 24 members of the ERT (or SWAT team), replete with killing machines, were deployed around the camp. It was isolated, difficult for media to cover, and the police could control the flow of information just like the US Army did in the Gulf.

Only two days ago, the police assault squad was ready, as was the police force and the government. There would be no olive branch, no suggestion that even one casualty on either side was unacceptable. The men and women at the Sundance camp heard the same words that the Japanese heard before Hiroshima and Nagasaki: unconditional surrender.

Suddenly, Sunday evening, media reported an RCMP announcement that two members had been shot in the back, saved from serious injury by their flack jackets. The media feeding frenzy erupted in vivid accounts of the ambush of police officers and forestry workers brought in to cut a fallen tree out of the way of the impending invasion. Even though no reporters were anywhere near enough to even hear the shooting, the Canadian Press reported that "Indian rebels ambushed an RCMP team yesterday with a hail of bullets that hit two officers near an armed camp on private land."

The story, authored by the RCMP, died just as quickly as it took off. Thousands of people saw on their televisions the retreating backs of the police without even a mark on their flak jackets. No more was said about the incident by the RCMP.

Ujjal Dosanjh, the BC Attorney General, said, "There is no point in more meetings (there had been none). I will not negotiate with renegades. There is only one issue here: law and order. There will be no deals, no talk about land ownership. It is not about land. They can give themselves up to the police for protection or face the consequences. The police will use whatever force is necessary to dislodge them."

The assault was imminent. Communications had been cut off by the police long ago. The B.C. Premier, the Attorney General, and the RCMP were prepared to reenact the bloody, genocidal history of the first invasion. The Colonial power was not about to let a bunch of uppity indians defy its law.

Only one slight problem. The indians were prepared to stand and fight. Dr. Bruce Clark, counsel for the defenders, explained the situation. "Both constitutionally and at common law, and under the Criminal Code, a person is entitled in self-defence to resist force with force."

Today, Tuesday August 29, the tension has eased considerably, due to the resolve of the defenders, and the sudden focussing of attention of the world on this tiny little lake in the middle of an 18000 acre ranch owned by an American, Lyle James. It looks like Dr. Bruce Clark, counsel for the defenders, will meet with the defenders at their camp on Wednesday. Until today, he had been prevented from communicating with his clients.

The defenders want justice. The First Nations land, now known as British Columbia, was never surrendered. Dr. Clark asserts that "the natural international and constitutional law is the same throughout the Americas: the jurisdiction of the native peoples must be respected until such time as they have surrendered it by voluntary deed of sale."

Keep the letters, faxes, phone calls, emails, and media stories coming. Now is the time to push even harder. The issue is Sovereignty for all. We are all in this together, and there is no time to lose. All creatures, great and small, require our most immediate attention.

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