Jul 27/98: Conversation with Wolverine



Eva Lyman
Monday, July 27, 1998

Three years after the last Sundance was held at Gustafsen Lake, Wolverine, currently in Matsqui Federal Prison, reflected on the outcome of the standoff, and talked about the past and the future.

Wolverine's disappointment with the various legal efforts in his long fight for justice was evident, when he stated that the results to date have all been negative, maily because the courts, including the Supreme Court of Canada, have steadfastly refused to honourably deal with the law, and constitutional issues. He considers the legal fraternity, with a few exceptions, to be lined up against the Aboriginal interest.

He mentioned a rumour that lawyers acting for Aboriginal clients in a high profile jurisdiction case, were paid $28 million by the government to work against their own client's interest. In such circumstances, and when the Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear jurisdiction arguments because they are "of no importance", he concludes, it is difficult to make headway.

During the standoff, the group at Gustafsen, guided by constitutional lawyer Bruce Clark, had hoped that the authorities would research the law, and act on it in a positive way. There is some indication, judging from evidence heard at the trial, that Stewart Rush [lawyer for the Gitskan chiefs in the Delgamuukw case -- S.I.S.I.S.] gave advice on constitutional law to the authorities. However, in the final analysis the matter was resolved by a force of arms of unprecedented proportions, with 400 police and military men, with highpowered weapons and armoured vehicles.

Did the Sundance group at Gustafsen Lake suspect that a huge police force was being massed against them? Wolverine admitted they knew from their scouting forays that there were several clusters of police surrounding them. Also the cattle kept activating the trip wires, setting off stun grenades, and flares at night, which further indicated the presence of police. However, the fact that they were up against 400 men was never clear until much later.

To those Canadians who say "How can Aboriginal people demand to get their land back now, after being silent for nearly 100 years?" Wolverine replies with little known facts. More than 100 years ago, in 1884 laws were passed that made it illegal for Aboriginals to hire lawyers, and sue for a just resolution of the increasing settler occupation of their land.

Some interior chiefs disregarded the 1884 laws, and took their case to the Queen in England several times in the first decade of this century. They found no relief. These unconstitutional and discriminatory laws were actually reinforced in 1927, by the genocidal prohibition of cultural practices like the potlach.

These incredible laws, which surely make a mockery of any concepts of justice in a purportedly democratic society, stayed in effect until 1951. As a result of this draconian, and racist legislation, there was an understandable period of silence from the Aboriginal community. Leaders who tried to have the land questions addressed were put in jail.

An interesting point was made during the recent IHRAAM (UN NGO status) hearings on residential schools, held in Vancouver. It was alleged that the school system evolved a Native "elite" of informers who were later promoted to positions of leadership through the Indian Act, which created a system of chief and council governments along the European model. These Chiefs are well paid for their loyalty to the Department of Indian Affairs. Some people claim that they are elected by a very small percentage of their communities.

Initiatives continue to be made, with no publicity, to deprive the Aboriginal nations of a just resolution of the land issues. Wolverine mentioned the Land Charter Act (1993), which has gone through second reading, as well as Bill C31, and Alternative Funding Arrangement. In order to be able to go through land claims, and get municipal level self government the first three legislative changes musts be accepted.

The Land Charter Act, if adopted, would give what Wolverine feels are excessive powers of land management to the Chief and Council. It might enable them to borrow from private banks, using their land as collateral. This could result in foreclosure by the banks, and in dispossessing and removing the people off the land. We might all be surprised to find one day that large areas of the Province have found their way into the hands of various domestic and foreign financial institutions. Also, once the municipal style of self government is brought in, taxation follows.

As to the future, Wolverine is concerned that it may be difficult to achieve positive objectives, if the Aboriginal Nations remain divided. He urges a united front, and joint action of all Native Nations across the land. If this united front were achieved, he believes a Class Action might be possible to address all the major wrongs such as residential school abuses, as well as the land jurisdiction issues. Clearly, the best defense against a "divide and rule" strategy is a united front.

Another strategy might be a massive public action campaign of writing to the Canadian and British Columbia Governments, urging specific and fair alternative proposals. Unfortunately very often changes seem to be taking place that have seen very little debate, and of which the public, both Aboriginal and mainstream are unaware. This is not how a democratic Nation should do business.

- Eva Lyman

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