Mar 21/97: Interview with Wolverine [The following interview is reprinted with permission from the Vancouver publication Terminal City, no. 183, March 21-27, 1997 - S.I.S.I.S.]


From the brand-spanking new Surrey pre-trial centre, Ben Mahony talks to William Jones Ignace, better known by his Shuswap name, Wolverine.

We were searched then taken through two sets of locked doors. The first set slammed loudly as we walked into a vacant space of white walls and tinted windows. Earlier in the day, I had asked my photographer companion Daniel: "Is this hungover-ramshackle-by the seat of your pants style what they call 'gonzo journalism'?" I wanted this discussion to be a sharing of perspective not an interrogation so I came as myself and improvised my questions on the one and a half hour transit ride. Generous Daniel took the assignment when we called him the previous night at midnight. Like most of the general public, he had little information about the land, legislation and people who were in the Gustafsen Lake camp when the largest mobilization of the RCMP in history surrounded them.

Wolverine has been in jail since September 1995 charged with eighteen other members of the Gustafsen Lake camp. The prosecution has made its case. Disclosures by the RCMP that they engineered a smear campaign and evidence that the RCMP instigated the violence has led to rumours that a mistrial may be declared. The defence has called controversial lawyer Bruce Clark to the stand to speak to the jurisdiction of the land and to the constitutional law which framed the demands of Wolverine and the camp. Since this is unceded territory for which the Shuswap Nation has signed no treaty, their claim to the land is as per the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which makes them allies to the Queen, not tenants. Because this argument appears convincing and well supported in existing constitutional law, it has been suggested that Federal Justice Minister Allan Rock and BC Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh may attend the proceedings which the Ts'peten Defenders encourage you to attend at the Surrey Court House.

Ben: What can you tell me about the Gustafsen Lake area and its history?

Wolverine: Well, the Gustafsen Lake area is part of the Shuswap Nation. I believe it came out in testimony about the inter-tribal agreement between the five bands that shared that area. But that's still in the part that's the Shuswap Nation. The Shuswap Nation is a very large Nation. It's surrounded by the Chilcotin, the Lil' Wat, the Okanagan, the Kootenay, and the Cree. So you see that it takes in right in to the Kootenay, about a ten hour drive to the east.

B: Were you born in that area?

W: No, I'm from the Southern Shuswap at Adams Lake. But Percy asked me for help for that area in the Sundance and from people that were trying to kick them off land which is still unceded territory because I've been going to court with Bruce [Clark] since 1990.

B: When did you first meet Bruce?

W: 1990.

B: Did he approach you?

W: No, I came down because there was an action going over with the Mt. Currie people. I met Bruce there. That was 1990. We went to different courts on the Lower Mainland here trying to get the jurisdiction issue addressed. We've been stonewalled by the judicial system. I think it came out in court that Bruce has tried to have the jurisdiction argument addressed 41 different times.

B: So he spoke to that question in regards to different claims, is that right? The Lil' Wat and with other people out east as well?

W: Yeah, we had one action which we were involved with in '89 in our area. I was more or less an advisor in that court case. Then Bruce took a case and finally it got to the Supreme Court of Canada.

B: Where was that, the Lil 'Wat?

W: No, it was a hunting issue, but dealing with the land issue that hadn't been settled in British Columbia. So anywhere you go you're still on unceded territory.

B: Most of BC is unceded territory?

W: Only a few small treaties were made. Treaty Eight is a pretty good size of Northern BC, but that one is questionable. The treaty was made with only one nation, [he paused and smiled raising one finger and I could sense my diminutive elder warming to the discussion. It must have been bizarre for him to have been inserted into a white ten by twenty foot discussion cubicle to meet with young white strangers] You cannot get on the map and draw out that "this is our territory" when there are people from other nations living on that. These people were drawn into Treaty Eight without even knowing it. So that treaty is questionable.

B: When you left Gustafsen Lake at the end of the incident did you know where you were going, that they were going to take you here or take you to jail?

W: I didn't know where we were going to go but it didn't matter as long as we got the issue dealt with.

B: Bruce said that one of the main reasons for the incident was to raise the issue of jurisdiction and the 1704 precedent. Is that true?

W: Well one of our main demands was third-party adjudication. Because in an appeal hearing in Canada or British Columbia, we'll never get a fair hearing because you cannot get a fair hearing from people that are competing for the same land and resources. We've never had any justice in this country and I don't think we ever will.

B: Have you sought action in the international sphere?

W: We took on the issue in 1991 because BC didn't want to deal with jurisdiction. This is at a lower level. Judges did not want to listen. So we talked it over with Bruce and asked how to advance our legal argument. How could we get this heard in the Supreme Court of Canada if the people at a lower level don't want to listen? I went to the United Nations. I took three volumes: "International Remedies", "Domestic Remedies", and different court cases that we were involved in at that time which the judges didn't want to listen to, to law. We felt that there might be at least one country in the world that could bring out our concerns. We took this to a panel of listeners of indigenous peoples in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1993. There I testified to the UN. What I said was that the whole judicial system in Canada was so corrupt that the corruption begins in the very Law Society itself, right to all the courts in British Columbia, right to the Attorney General of British Columbia and right to the Premier's Office. I said that's where the corruption is and that goes right to the Supreme Court of Canada because they do not want to listen to law.

B What reaction did you get?

W: Well it sort of shocked some of the people. What I stated was that if the UN fails us in what we're trying to do here, to bring out the message, if it fails us, where in the world can we go for justice? We may have only one more avenue we could go and that was to the queen herself because we felt that the queen had jurisdiction. When the traditional people speak about the Crown we mean "The Imperial Crown of Great Britain," the original place where jurisdiction stems from. So we have to go back there to get our case before the Queen and the Privy council.

B: Do you think that's possible?

W: Well if it's still in the law books, like in 1704 in Queen Anne's Court. It's only been used [the third-party adjudication mechanism] once.

B: It has been used? In 1704?

W: Yeah, the Mohegan versus Connecticut. They still have the Privy Council and here in Canada. But the Privy Council here in Canada will not rule in our favour because they're eating out of the same trough as the politicians and everybody else. And so is the enforcement arm. So that for any kind of action that we do here in Canada, we are criminalized. Like at Gustafsen Lake when yet clearly all the laws are on our side.

B: When Bruce Clark went overseas to speak to people their reaction was disbelief. "There's no way that can be going on in Canada," they said because of our reputation as a peaceful and just nation. Bruce testified that his mind and you're mind are one and the same on issues of jurisdiction. Is that true?

W: Yeah. I've been putting the pieces of the puzzle together since 1974 as to how the system operates here.

B: When did you first learn of the 1704 remedy?

W: I first learned about this from Bruce, but I had the same document of 1875, which I picked up a few years ago then gave to Bruce.

B: Bruce has supporters and also people that criticize him a lot. Some think he's being smeared and that the justice system is out to get him.

W: It's not only the justice system, the enforcement arm of the government is after him too because with these legal arguments he's the best there is in Canada.

B Some that might support you otherwise feel that his behaviour is erratic.

W: Because he's been at it and has seen genocide happen to Indian people themselves... some of his friends. So I guess it touches him. People that don't know him think he's a little bit off but he's not, he's the best there is. He's the only man here in Canada who's willing to take on the case. I had a lawyer who undermined the very argument that we're putting forth here today.

B: Was Rankin just arguing about the nature of the evidence?

W: That's it. What evidence was that when it's all hearsay by the RCMP themselves, all a pack of lies. I will tell you this. I've been here for eight months and only two officers have told the truth, only two. That's the kind of law enforcement that have here in Canada now. They're corrupt. Their heads are in the trough like a bunch of pigs. There was only two.

B: Did media come into the camp?

W: We had a few come in but they twisted the story so bad. They made stories up. That was part of the smear campaign done by the RCMP to discredit us so that way we'd never gain support from the people across Canada or anywhere because we were bringing out the law. The law is what we stood on. We asked for third-party adjudication through the Privy Council. We tried to open the door through the Governor General and to get him to open the door to the Privy Council in Great Britain. That was the only real demand we had.

B: People didn't hear that. It's been acknowledged that there was a smear campaign. What would you say to people who want to know about the shots that were fired?

W: Who's land was it? Who had a right to be there? The RCMP came in. They're the one's who invaded into unceded territory and assumed that the land belonged to them. How could the land belong to them when we don't have a treaty in this country. So who's right according to law. Who's land is it? Who has a right to it... the invading forces were the RCMP who never had a right according to law. They're the ones breaking the law, ever since 1875. In 1876, they tried to make changes to the Land Act in what is known as the Duty of Disallowance. It was an Order-In-Council that disallowed BC from making changes to the Land Act. Then what did they do? They set up the Indian Act in 1876 to cover up the big land theft in this country. Until these questions are answered, the land still belongs to the Indian people.

In that Indian Act they put in Section 88 which makes all laws applicable to us. But they don't have the right because of 109 and 129 of the Constitution Act which says "subject to, subject to" [kind smile of confidence again] means a purchase or a treaty, subject to."

B: I see. And that never happened.

W: Never happened. So what'd they do? It's like if you were to draw a circle and cut it in half across. That line that goes across is the constitutional law. When our rights were stated in the 1763 Royal Proclamation, that is above, and it states that BC and Canada cannot make changes to Constitutional law.

B: I didn't know that.

W: This is where the people are fooled into thinking that they have a right. They have an amending formula now because you have the Meech Lake and the Charlotte town Accord. They have the amending formula which lasts for fifteen years from 1982 to 1997. ItUll be up on June 24th, 1997. The Queen gave Canada fifteen years to settle the issue.

B: From the Repatriation in 1982?

W: Yeah. They have the amending formula now, they can make changes, but until then the land is still ours... even the queen cannot make changes to what her forefathers put into law.

B: Do you think it's possible that people overseas will start to realize this is happening in Canada?

W: Canada has a way of lobbying different nations. If there's a disaster they send over some relief to the poor countries. I don't know if that's ever collected, but that's used as way of buying support through different business groups. So I feel that we'll never get any justice until we get a third party involved.

When you look at the underlying title being held by the Indian people, when you get all this resource extraction in territories never given to Canada... you might have peace treaties but that was only for peace between one another that did not mean that you could have all the resources on these lands. If you look at the different maps and plans for what they're going to do with the water resources in this province in the Grand Canal projects...

B: The water going to the US?

W: All this going to the US. They're going to destroy the major rivers. For these people it's just profit.

B: Are the Band Councils part of that?

W: The Band Councils are just the yes-men to the federal government. They only follow guidelines set up by the Department of Indian Affairs and that keeps them in the money, keeps the master happy. You're not going to bite the hand that feeds. So you look at those made past agreements. It's not the ordinary people, it's not the grassroots. They're elected officials who are from the same department of the Federal Government. Is this legal? When you have two from the same department making a legal agreement with one another, is this legal? But yet you try to take this into court and you deal with the same people. So where are you going to get justice? Where are you going to take it? Not here in Canada. Where are all the documents? They've been hidden away by the DIA, the DIA is part of the federal government. How are you really going to get a straight answer, they're not going to help us out. As a matter of fact, you watch, if there's going to be any cross-examination, if the federal government comes in. They may. I'm waiting for that because the federal government has a judiciary trust to protect our rights. But now we're talking about the land issue. Now we'll see on which side of the fence the federal government is going to be on. They're going to join the province. You just watch. Mark my words on this. They're going to join with the province and try to attack us. And yet you have a fiduciary trust to protect our rights. Getting back to the circle, and Bruce could fill you in more on the constitutional law of this country and we're above that. We are allies to the queen, not subjects. Now it's the subjects that are trying to tell us what the hell to do in our own country, making law which turns the whole thing around where we are below and that line in the circle, they're putting constitutional law below or trying to bury it. But you turn that circle back around and up above is the Constitutional Law, section 109 and 129, that go back to 1763 that the Federal government and the Provincial has to live under because that's part of the BNA Act first set up in this country in 1867. They twist that around for their benefit. This is the reason I'm here today to try to bring that part of the law out that's been buried.

[an interruption occurred here and confusion as to whether we could continue. I was taken out and searched again on the way in after fetching more tape. The faithful photographer was still in the room listening to Wolverine tell the story of a friend of his who was beginning to win cases in law relating to the land issue in the US. This activist was trying to set up self-sufficient industry on native territory on the west Coast in the way of oil refineries and tobacco shops] [Probably referring to Chief Robert Satiacum, who died in the custody of BC authorities - S.I.S.I.S.]

W: ... the people in government didn't like that so they charged him with different charges to keep him busy in the courts. They manufactured different evidence in his trial. This is what the FBI did. When you say that the smear is the specialty of the RCMP, you should know that they learned this from the FBI. The FBI used this with different groups in the US.

B: What was that man charged with?

W: They charged him with attempted murder, arson, you name it.

B: They charged you with the same thing.

W: Yeah, just to keep you in so you can't bring the message out to the people.

B: Now you stood up to a tank.

W: Yeah, [hearty laughter]

B: What do you want to tell people about that. Are there some things you can't talk about?

W: No, it's come out in the courts... That APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier) was coming at me. He was going to flatten me out I guess. Even in my old age I must be getting faster at running. I don't know, my forefathers had to go after buffalo. They call these Bisons, I guess, the APC. What my forefathers had to contend with only had four legs, this one had eight, I guess that's what scared the hell outta me. [more hearty laughter] What I'm charged for, the six attempts, that's what the APC had, six flat tires. I guess there must be Michelin, what are the different tire manufacturers names... Ever-ready... [hearty laughter all around... the faithful photographer offers a company name] So that's what I'm charged for. It tried to run me over. It missed me.

B: What were you doing there that day? Did they come find you?

W: I came out because people were being attacked. We were under attack. It started off with an explosion which the RCMP did not want to bring out. They attacked the camp. That's self-defence, automatic self-defence. Only a small group of people of 18 against 400. That's great odds. Even that wasn't enough, they were going to bring the regiment in.

B: When did you first get the sense that you were surrounded and you were under attack.

W: I sensed that pretty well right away.

B: August?

W: Yeah.

B: Had there been attacks from people in the neighbourhood? There were reports that people came around with a bull whip.

W: That was the rancher himself, actually one of his men. I wasn't in the camp then.

B: Percy asked you to come?

W: I was phoned on June 13th when the ranchers came in. So it was on the 14th we came in during the night... what I was there for was more or less to bring out the law, the law as I understand it. We had a meeting with two of the ranchers sons, one of his daughters. Three RCMP officers all came into the camp along with the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council.

B: Was that in June?

W: Yeah, we were discussing the issue. It was opened up in this way: Lyle James' daughter said: "I guess you guys know what we're here for. The law's been broken. We want to have something done about it." So I just sat there, I thought she was going to carry on from that point but she didn't. So I said "I agree with you. The law has been broken but by you people because we don't have a treaty, there's no purchase." The people in the tribal council, the Chief, tried to take over the meeting from that point on. I told him I didn't recognize him in having any say on the land issue because I said you are a civil servant therefore I don't want to hear from you because the people I work with are the elders of the Shuswap and Okanagan Confederacy. That Confederacy dates back to 1877 with the hereditary Chiefs.

B: I think Bruce was talking about how when an agreement is signed between natives and newcomers it has to be signed by a hereditary chief.

W: Yeah, that's right.

B: And there has to be a community gathering or something like that and that those things didn't happen in these cases?

W: No.

B: Is it clear who hereditary chiefs would be in this case?

W: Well prior to the Indian Act system that was imposed on the Indian people, we had four [Chiefs] that went over to England in 1906, two from the Okanagan, two from the Shuswap. Again in 1924, two from the Shuswap and one from the Okanagan. [I won't attempt to spell their names] In 1884 they put in the law banning three or more people from banding together, like the Potlatch. In 1927 they made the laws enforceable. And for people that talked about the land issue, you were picked up, you were given maybe sixty days.

B: In jail?

W: Yeah and sometimes up to a year. It was 1927 that they enforced that law in British Columbia.

B: What was that law?

W: The Potlatch laws-where anyone who talked about the land issue could be picked up and brought to the courts. And people were brought in for over a year. Those laws stayed on the books until 1951 and then they were taken off because I guess the federal government felt that a long enough time had passed and nobody would know about the land issue... the language was lost and that the people then would forget about their nation and the land issue. So they took that part of it off in 1951 and then it was okay to talk about the land issue, to gather monies for hiring lawyers. Before that, right from 1884 until 1951 it was against the law, it was in the books, it was against the law for the Indian people to hire lawyers.

B: From '51 until today, whose been on the land around Gu... the Shuswap Nation. Is Percy's family from that area?

W: Yeah he's from up in the Northern Shuswap, I'm from the Southern. When we went down to Albuquerque together he brought out the Sundance issue because... in the UN you have to have the four elements in order to be recognized as a nation. You have to have the language, the land base, the culture, and the religion. This defines who you are as a people. So Percy went down with me to Albuquerque in '93. That's where we met the (-----[inaudible, he was speaking softly but I didn't want to interrupt]) people and people from Chiapas. Prior to their rebellion down there the last message we got from them was that "This might be the last time we will see you, maybe in this lifetime because when we go home we might be walking the stars." This is the message they gave us.

B: From Chiapas?

W: Yeah. It didn't hit me. I was puzzled a little bit about what he meant because he was talking very high and spiritual. It wasn't until I got home I think it was the eighteenth. It wasn't 'til I got home. I was sitting down still thinking about that and some of the people that we met. So I said we're going to have to watch that TV. I think something is gonna break.

B: You just had that sense?

W: Yeah, so in the next couple, watch... and sure enough the rebellion happened in Chiapas. So far I think there's one or two that 've come up to this area from down there... [More visitors were waiting so we the interview had to end here...]

B: I'd like to talk to some more if I could another day.

W: Yeah, we'll talk some more another time. I hope I filled you in a little bit.

His delivery was like that of a grandfather. That is the nature of oral history I suppose.

The prosecution continues to push for a guilty verdict as Bruce Clark's testimony as to the issue of jurisdiction concludes this week.

The Ts'Peten Defence Committee on the other hand urge you to communicate @ [the Settlers in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty site - S.I.S.I.S.]: Web:

I picked up this tidbit about the case from one of their press releases which for one reason or another seem ignored by mass media: "A previous lawyer informed us that she has attended a social function at SFU's Harbour Centre which was also attended by Madam Justice Abella, Ujjal Dosanjh, and Justice Patrick Dohm. During this social event our former lawyer was told by Justice Dohm that she had better not come into this case trying to advocate the constitutional arguments or the Legal Aid funds will dry up. That is nothing less than judicial extortion and these statements are punishable under Canadian law," said Splitting the Sky, "I stand libel by that statement and challenge Justice Dohm to prove otherwise." I'm told that Legal Aid has just been cut off to the defence.

Terminal City Ts'peten series

* Part 1: Hearing the other side of the story * Part 2: Bruce Clark testifies at Ts'peten trial * Part 3: Interviews with Margaret and Bruce Clark * Part 4: "Our home and native land" * Part 5: Interview with Wolverine * Part 6: Sundancers on trial * Part 7: Mapping racism * Part 11: No happy ending, just damage control

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