Settlers In Support of Indigenous Sovereignty (S.I.S.I.S.)
March 23, 1998
In November and December 1997, Victoria, BC's Monday Magazine published a pair of articles by Sherryl Yeager on the Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake) siege and subsequent trial. S.I.S.I.S. informed the Monday editor of a number of significant factual errors in the articles -- including statements attributed to S.I.S.I.S. Yet to date, there has been no public correction or retraction, nor has the editor printed any of the letters sent to Monday pointing out the errors in the Yeager articles.
Months later, Monday finally responded to us, apologizing for the long delay, admitting there were errors yet stating that "A correction at this point would be meaningless." S.I.S.I.S. disagrees, and is therefore publicizing the following letter to Monday from activist journalist John Shafer, one of the people whom Yeager interviewed. The original articles, along with a number of other letters to the editor which were cc'ed to S.I.S.I.S. can be viewed at:
What is disappointing about Monday's recent articles on Gustafsen Lake ("Divided they stand - One Last Stand" December 1997) is not just that they contain much that is misleading and false but that they contain so little of what is truly relevant and important to know. This seeming inability of our media to deliver accurate information on vitally important issues and events has serious implications. As media mistrust grows there is an increasing shift towards alternative, non-corporate sources. This has certainly been true of Gustafsen Lake. The coverage by community powered stations such as CFUV or CFRO, cable TV and small papers like UVic's Martlet or Vancouver's Terminal City, not to mention the internet http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/SISmain.html continue to swell the ranks of the many demanding a public inquiry into all aspects of the Gustafsen and Ipperwash matters.
This inquiry call comes not just from "Clark supporters" or "Gustafsen Lake defenders [who] refuse to forgive or forget", or the Assembly of First Nations which is described as "a collection of puppet governments toadying to the feds." These are Sherryl Yeager's words. At no time did any of the sovereigntists she interviewed for these articles say this. Nor did anyone tell her that "supporters combed the camp area with a metal detector." I certainly didn't "argue that environmentalists don't want aboriginal people to regain control over their land because that could mean resource extraction." Wolverine was sentenced to eight years, not "four and a half years." The Center for Constitutional Rights that is calling for an inquiry into Gustafsen is in New York not Munich. And there is no such Ts'peten defender named " Pitananakwat." Perhaps Yeager was referring to OJ Pitawanakwat.
Why does the media find it so difficult to tell the truth about Gustafsen Lake? Either this is done deliberately or the truth is not important to Monday or Sherryl Yeager. It most certainly is for myself, as I believe it is for the others interviewed as well as the reader. That is why, unbeknownst to Yeager, we took the precaution of recording the interview as well as inviting a Martlet staffer to sit in and watch this "pro" in action.
Yeager claimed that "Clark shouted and threw documents earning a psychiatric assessment." Yet in my presence, elder Bill Lightbown, an eyewitness to the incident in question described to her what really happened: Clark was assaulted at the instigation of the bench, and he "earned" a psychiatric assessment, assault and torture by police, and demonization by media because his legal arguments threaten powerful resource interests and indict certain state officials. When the Upper Canada Law Society examined the issue and overturned the attempt by a corrupt BC legal and political establishment to have Clark disbarred, they found that "The genocide of which Clark speaks is real, we are sympathetic moreover to his assertion the courts have been unwilling to hear his arguments."
Yeager also uses constructions like"American John Hill" and terms like "militant traditionalists. "Why is Mohawk Splitting the-Sky John Hill referred to as an "American" and not the American millionaire Suniva Bronson who, a la Patty Hearst, has decided "you have to play the game in the system"? Bronson, like Lyle James, will return to her huge ranch on unceded Shuswap land to have her Indian baby "and set up a place to teach Indian people the traditional ways." Yet when I interviewed her after the standoff in September 1995 she described herself as "a freedom fighter".
At that time too, Pena spoke of the legal system's "fear that we will go out and talk about the truth to the people." She also spoke of her fear that having been denied counsel of choice: "We know that they will railroad us. And the only one that we can trust is Bruce Clark and our struggle and what we're fighting for now is jurisdiction. This is what we've struggled for and fought for years - jurisdiction and addressing the law." Shuswap 'Faithkeeper' Percy Rosette also confirmed that "the demands are still the same as when we started and that is to let the governments know that they made this law and they have to go by that, but they've tried to sway that by manipulation. This is with our lawyer Bruce Clark - the only true demands are with him, that's what we stand on."
Yeager's Clark-bashing and hot-button snarl-words like "militant traditionalists" are strongly reminiscent of the kind of mainstream spew that poured out of our media at the time. Indeed, in the summer of 1995 Yeager was covering the Gustafsen standoff for Southam's Vancouver Sun. Another Monday journalist, Will Thomas insinuated himself inside the Ts'peten camp posing as a supporter. He jumped clear just before the authorities sealed off the camp and closed the trap on the traditionalists they had planned all along to destroy. Thomas popped up again later along with his videotapes and testimony to appear as a crown witness for the prosecution in the state's case against the Sundancers. The point is simply that Monday, no less than most of the mainstream media, is hardly a disinterested party.
Some critical observers, like Canadian Dimension magazine, have likened the media's performance at Gustafsen Lake to "CNN's handling of the Gulf War, with the reporters locked up in steady contact with the generals and the military's spin doctors." It also noted "the rush to sweep the affair out of the news," the moment the physical standoff ended, concluding that the whole thing "shows all the signs of a classic coverup." (CD; Dec. '95) During the virtually unreported Gustafsen criminal trial, the state continued its desperate and hamfisted attack upon the traditionalists by coaxing and coercing some of the defendants through their lawyers to betray and denounce those who refused to give up the fight or stop their exposure of state crimes.
Despite being denied their counsel of choice Bruce Clark, these self-represented defendants like Wolverine, OJ Pitawanakwat, and non-native Shelagh Franklin were surprisingly effective. For instance, Franklin's cross-examination elicited the admission by a top RCMP commander that pre-planning discussions for a Gustafsen 'operation' were already in progress in May of 1995 - months before the Sundancers were even due to arrive. It was soon clear to many of us who were attending the trial just why the media wasn't, as we caught glimpses of what the state was attempting, is still attempting, to keep hidden from public view.
The trial disclosed notes made by senior RCMP bureaucrats, including the one who liaised with the Attorney General/Human Rights Minister Ujjal Dosanjh and other provincial and federal officials. They recorded agreement on a strategy objective "to clean them out entirely and not have any hanging issues similar to what occurred at Oka." In order to achieve this objective, the Gustafsen Crisis Management Team (CMT) - RCMP negotiators, strategists, a "psy-ops" consultant who had assisted the US Justice Department at Waco and later moved on to the MRTA embassy standoff in Lima, Peru, and others - developed a coordinated and systematic "smear and disinformation campaign," to use their own words for their strategy.
Police videotapes recorded RCMP deliberations, portions of which were played to a stunned and hushed courtroom. The Mounties then media liaison Peter Montague is recorded telling CMT members that "smear campaigns are our specialty." When this story did see the light of day, media carried Montague's simple statement that of course he was only joking. Later Montague was even promoted. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell personally asked him to run as a MLA candidate in the last by-election in Surrey-Whiterock. Apparently a specialty for smear campaigns makes one ideally suited for BC's legislature. The RCMP's chief negotiator was similarly recorded soliciting "names of people that can help us with a smear or disinformation campaign." More importantly he expressed the wishes of the RCMP Command to "Kill this [Bruce] Clark! Smear the prick and everyone associated with him." This the media did, and in the case of Sherryl Yeager and Monday, continues to do.
For me the most chilling aspect of the trial, apart from the appalling interrogation, torture and beating of the severely handicapped Joseph Ignace, was the alarming degree to which media were integrated into the RCMP 'operational plan'.The CBC's propaganda broadcast into the camp as part of a police provocation and psy-ops stratagem was an outrageous violation of the public broadcaster's mandate. Even more sinister however was the evidence captured on the RCMP videotapes recording prominent media personalities submitting materials to the CMT members for vetting prior to publication or broadcast. One of Yeager's former Southam colleagues recently confessed that a "select crop" of "cherry picked media" were very "palsy walsy" with the RCMP's media liaison Peter Montague: Province writer Joey Thompson described "an incredible amount of pressure to conform ... and so they did ... the fact is that camp members weren't the terrorists RCMP made them out to be. Nor did they invite the shootouts the police press releases claimed." Thompson rightly concludes that Gustafsen is just another reason why for much of the public "trust is gone" in media. With respect to Monday and these latest articles, regretfully, I concur.