Nov 24/97: Clipping-Divided they stand


For some activists, the Gustafsen Lake standoff has faded to bitter memory

Monday Magazine (Victoria, BC weekly)
November 27, 1997
Sherryl Yeager

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only. The reporter, Sherryl Yeager, wrote about the Gustafsen Lake story for the Vancouver Sun during the standoff in 1995, but did not cover the trial. Commentary on this article follows the article itself.]

Nearly four months after the Gustafsen Lake standoff participants were sentenced, only the most militant few remain in jail. But as some continue to press for a public inquiry into the 1995 crisis, even sympathizers stand divided.

Tobi Pena is the wife of Percy Rosette, the faithkeeper whose Sundance ceremonies led to the standoff. She says lawyer Bruce Clark, whose courtroom outbursts and heated arguments for native sovereignty generated controversy during the standoff and subsequent trial, and American John Hill, also known as Splitting the Sky, brought tensions to a boil but then jumped clear. "They could have had us massacred in there for their own agendas. They walked away while the faithkeeper is imprisoned."

During the Summer of 1995, Clark convinced the RCMP to allow him access to the camp inhabitants as the standoff began to attract a massive police force. He returned brandishing bullets and claiming the police fired the first shots. In court, Clark shouted and threw documents, earning a psychiatric assessment, which he passed. He then left the country before a date to face contempt of court charges, but later returned to spend three weeks on the stand arguing that aboriginal rights were never extinguished and that Canada's existing laws are invalid on native territories. He eventually served a three month sentence.

John Hill conducted militaristic training sessions prior to the standoff. During and after the standoff he made inflammatory remarks to the press; he continues to rally support for the sovereigntists. "So many times we were told not to speak, and he never stops," Pena says of Clark. "If we had been massacred in there, then his jurisdictional argument would win in court." Pena and Rosette now live on a ranch 20 minutes from Kamloops. It is owned by Suniva Bronson, another Gustafsen Lake activist, who remains in the Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women's open living unit.

Many who watched and reported on the standoff say there were two camps all along - the Sundancers who were there to defend spiritual beliefs, and militant traditionalists who'd arrived after hearing that a fight was brewing. The two groups banded together during the ensuing clash with police, but after 10 months in court, they were bitterly at odds.

For supporters of Clark and standoff leader Jones Ignace, better known as Wolverine, the trial was an opportunity to argue aboriginal sovereignty. For Rosette, the argument was protecting Sundance grounds to ensure he finished the ceremonial cycle.

Suspicion and misunderstanding between the two camps grew because of a lack of communication - Ignace was in custody during the trial, while the Sundance supporters were living in a campground without a telephone. "We all ended up in the same place, so it's too bad," says Bronson, who backs the Sundancers but earned a bullet in the arm during the standoff, as well as a two-year prison sentence. "Each was right in his own way, as far as I can see." Rosette lived at the Gustafsen Lake site with Pena and their children for seven years. The Sundance grounds, arbour and cabin that were the centre of the dispute were burned to the ground after the standoff.

The faithkeeper rarely speaks, and when he does, it is softly. During the trial, Clark supporters who were never inside the camp would shout and curse Rosette and his circle. "It tore my heart apart inside, to hear them hollering and cursing and calling him down in front of the court house," says Pena. The atmosphere outside the courthouse was almost more stressful than being inside, because of Clark supporters who insisted on telling Rosette and other camp inhabitants what the standoff was about, and that those supporting the Sundance group were sellouts, says Bronson. "I don't need a lawyer telling me it's Indian land; I know it is," she says. "Laws change and they have to be obeyed. Percy tells me it's Indian land, and I believe it."

"It's 1997 and there are certain people in control of government and business, and they make the laws and control the courts. You have to play the game in the system and get out. But Clark, his life is to be in the court system and win," she says. Native and non-native supporters were drawn to the standoff and the issues around it. Pena says she cannot fathom why some non-natives hold unquestioning faith in Bruce Clark and his argument that native jurisdiction was never extinguished. "Those who were inside the camp with us, I believe in them because they stayed and didn't turn against us. But the ones on the outside are just looking for a cause. I really don't think they know themselves what they are looking for. Glory of some kind, maybe," Pena says.

While Clark's supporters seek an inquiry into the police conduct during the summmer of 1995 and the lengthy sentences that were meted out, some sundancers just want to forge on. For Bronson, now six months pregnant, the jail sentence was both surprisingly light and a welcome reprieve from the stress of the trial. "Every day I came out of there exhausted. To hear the police, and the things they were saying - I was surprised at how trying it was," she says. She looks drained, with large black circles under her eyes. Bronson is the last of the women in custody, and plans to apply for electronic monitoring. Only those who were the most visibly militant during the standoff received sentences over two years. Ignace was sentenced to four and a half years for mischief causing danger to life, and James Pitawanakwat and Edward Dick received three years for that charge and possession of a weapon.

"From the way things were going, and the judicial system, and who is in control, it could have been worse. For the people who were just convicted of mischief, I was surprised at the time they got. I think everybody was," says Bronson. While she expected three to five years for herself, she believed the unarmed camp inhabitants would be given community service, not six months imprisonment. Pena wasn't expecting to be sentenced at all for her charge of mischief to private property. "It was very strange to be in jail. Everyone in there has been convicted for drugs, murder, assault, so I felt out of place."

Born into a well-off family and university educated, Bronson also doesn't fit in with her jail-mates. But she warns against judging those in custody, who come from backgrounds of abuse, poverty and neglect. "Just because I have money and education doesn't mean I'll be better off down the road," she says. "I just want to go back to the farm and have this baby, and set up a place to teach Indian people the traditional ways." Bronson and her mother would provide the supplies, food and clothes, while Rosette shows young people the traditional ways. He has already been speaking to the native bands in the Gustafsen Lake area to explain and make amends for the standoff.

For Bronson, passing on traditional culture is a natural extension of her own beliefs. "What I learned in the past couple of years... has given me the spiritual strength to be able to hold my head up, even though doomsday is ahead," she says. "There is hope still, and it comes through respect for nature and the Creator, and knowledge of the land." Bronson no longer thinks guns are the right answer, saying no one wins in a war. "I wouldn't do it again. But I don't regret it. It was a big learning experience involving stress, hardship and pain."

One thing is certain - Gustafsen Lake was the first, and last, spiritual standoff, says Pena. During the trial, the RCMP made no secret of their desire for armoured personnel carriers and machine guns, to prepare for future civil disobedience. "I guess that freedom is for everybody else except the Indian people, to have freedom of religion and speech is for everyone except the Indian people," says Pena.

(Coming soon: some Gustafsen Lake defenders refuse to forgive or forget.)

Letters to Monday Magazine:

S.I.S.I.S. encourages those who wish to respond to this article to also send their letters to the University of Victoria Student Newspaper, The Martlet, at

The Martlet featured a rebuttal to the Monday article which is posted below. Monday has not, as of December 30 1997, published any of the letters sent to them regarding this article (see letters following the Martlet rebuttal).



The Martlet, University of Victoria Student Newspaper
December 4, 1997
Editorial Collective

Here we go again.

As if the mainstream media weren't complicit enough in the genocidal exercises known as the Gustafsen Lake standoff and trial, along comes an article in the Nov. 27 Monday Magazine that continues the misinformation campaign against the Ts'peten Defenders.

The article by Sherryl Yeager, a reporter who covered the standoff for the Vancouver Sun, asserts: "Many who covered the standoff say there were two camps all along - the sundancers who were there to defend spiritual beliefs and the militant traditionalists who'd arrived after hearing that a fight was brewing."

Those who followed Gustafsen Lake, like the Martlet, know the split in the defenders came well into the trial, after 'faithkeeper' Percy Rosette's lawyer began attacking the sovereigntist position of the 'militant traditionalists'- portraying his client as the dove of the standoff who didn't really deserve to go to prison.

This good Indian, bad Indian tactic was first used by the RCMP during the standoff when they claimed the 'militants' were holding the 'spiritual' people hostage.

Ironically, after the standoff ended, many of the participants from the 'spiritual' side went on record to dispell the rumors of their division.

In October '95, Trond Halle, non-native videographer and camp participant wrote Life Inside the Ts'peten Camp; his version of events are:

"To suggest that some people followed the spiritual strength of Percy while others followed the warrior strength of Wolverine is an insult to the brave spirits of each and every defender."
In fact, both of Yeager's sources were recorded - both during and after the standoff - declaring the exact opposite of what they now claim in the Monday article: that they were part of the 'spiritual' side who didn't really want to fight.

Before, during and after the standoff, these sources declared their allegiance to the legal argument of jurisdiction - which is all that the defenders at Gustafsen Lake wanted to be addressed by an independent third party tribunal.

And now these 'authorities' are trying to further damage the cause that they and other men, women and children risked their lives for: the legal issue of jurisdiction. And it is an issue which 'B.C.' can only answer with military force, because the province is in denial of the law.

Peter Montague, media liaison for the RCMP during the standoff, was recorded on tape declaring: "Smear campaigns are our specialty."

Not only are smear campaigns the specialty of the RCMP, but as has been the pattern since Europeans first arrived on Turtle Island, the people who betray the cause, the struggle, are held up as the sources of truth and integrity, while the people who fight for their very right to exist - and are killed or imprisoned for their resistance - are demonized and smeared throughout the media which, historically, and during events like Gustafsen Lake, prove that they are merely messengers for the state.

By reporting recycled RCMP propaganda instead of the simple Canadian laws which define Indian sovereignty, the mainstream media is making an implicit commitment to continue lies that are centuries old.

Why would they be recycling RCMP propaganda unless they too had something to hide: like their collaboration with the RCMP - which has been captured on videotape and admitted to by a Province reporter in October who says certain reporters were "cherry picked" by the police.

But let us remember that this collaboration is nothing new. When history's bloodied hands stretch back through the last five centuries, where media has demonized and fabricated lies to manufacture hatred against Indian people, we will find a system of information that has always put at the disposal of the state.

Indeed, the mainstream media in 'B.C.' demonstrates that it is committed to its mandate: to make murder and land theft by colonial governments more palatable to the settlers.


re: Sherryl Yeager's article

[S.I.S.I.S. note: As of December 30, 1997, Monday Magazine had not printed any of the following letters to the editor that were cc'ed to S.I.S.I.S. The letters below are printed here with the permission of the authors.

It should also be noted that S.I.S.I.S. informed the editor of Monday Magazine of numerous factual errors in both this article and the follow-up article. As of December 30, 1997, there has been no retraction.]

November 26, 1997

Dear Editor:

With a friend like Percy Rosette, who needs enemies?

The faithkeeper loses faith and walks free, while Jones Ignace and James Pitawanakwat remain imprisoned.

The no-faithkeeper's wife talks about massacres, and points her finger in the wrong direction, while indigenous people are massacred daily by corrupt police forces and right-wing, corporate sponsored death squads.

The reporter perpetuates a half-baked, bogus story about documents being thrown in a courthouse.

Isn't there anyone out there in mainstream medialand with the guts to report the facts on Gustafsen?

John Hamer

Saturday, December 6, 1997
I really appreciatted seeing your article about Ruiz in Victoria. "Divided they Stand" is a horrible misappropriation of the truth. Besides being irresponsible journalism I have to ask Sherryl Yeager how 4 months after the sentencing she could be so ignorant of the established evidence and facts of the trial and standoff? As far as I'm concerned the article is so biased and lacking of obvious and available answers to naive questions presented, that we can chalk this one up to one more in the "smear and disinformation campaign" (D Ryan RCMP), whether it was intended that way or not.

I attended the trial and took the time to get the facts straight, which wasn't that difficult. There's a collection of three documentaries available on video if you want to see them. If I had to try and get every one of the mistakes or misrepresentations straight from the article it would take about 6 pages, and the worst part of it is, is that the article is long since public and therefore possibly floating around in the heads of those who don't know better. So I have to ask the editor "Are you that ignorant or out of touch with such a relatively high profile event? Why didn't you check with someone else who attended the trial for more than a few days and ask them about some of the basic facts?"

The Gustafsen lake standoff and trial strengthened the obvious necessity and committment for the justice that is so blatantly lacking in B.C..I know that there were a fair amount of 'activists', 'protesters', 'people who care', at the No to APEC demonstrations, that have a much better grasp of the trial and standoff facts than either S Yeager or yourself Mr Editor. It wasn't hard to get to know the 'sympathizers' who were outside the courthouse, and they're not divided, if anything they're more resolute as more and more of the facts become available. Percy Rosette travelled to the United Nations Working Group for Indigenous Peoples in Dec 93 with Wolverine, and also signed the petition to the Queen in Jan of 95, asking that the Shushwap peoples constitutional and international rights be addressed properly along with Wolverine and others. Percy Rosette put out a call to John 'Splitting the Sky' Hill and others, for help after white racists made death threats against Percy with weapons and violence.

The RCMP escorted the racists to the campsite, which Percy didn't know when he asked for their assistance, or after when people with high calibre weapons (RCMP 'manouevring') were spotted outside the camp in camouflage. Later when it was obvious that the RCMP had no intention of enforcing justice, and just before the RCMP completely sealed off the camp (including cutting off all outside communication with the camp), Wolverine asked John 'Splitting the Sky' Hill to stay on the outside of the camp and represent the camp members there, in the case that they were massacred or whatever.

Dr Bruce Clark's agenda, as well as John 'Splitting the Sky' Hill's have always been to have existing Aboriginal Rights respected and followed, which include the Sundancer's right to defend their spiritual believes (and actions). John 'Splitting the Sky' Hill is a traditional Sundancer Warrior. To pretend that the Sundancer has nothing to do with being a Warrior, or that Warrior status doesn't come with a specific moral and ethic code, is as stupid as assuming that white militant red-necks or racist criminal police represent the will of the rest of non-Indian society in "B.C.".

An article about division amongst the Ts'Peten Defenders that has no mention of liar (oops I meant lawyer) Sheldon Tate's participation (Bronson and Pena's 'representation'), or the criminal behaviour of the RCMP. DURING the trial is downright stupid. The day after the sentencing Sheldon Tate was on public radio (CFRO 102.7) saying that he represents Indian clients because their brains haven't fully evolved and he therefore helps them. During the trial he was clear in his position that Gustafsen lake isn't Indian land, he made wild false accusations against John 'Splitting the Sky' Hill (even though Splitting the Sky wasn't even an accused defendant), and tried to undermine the law brought to the court's attention by Wolverine (William Jones Ignace) and Dr Bruce Clark. If Pena is concerned about how the faithkeeper could be jailed, she should address the truth of the matter that united the Ts'Peten Defenders had a case that could easily have gotten all of them free. The undermining tactics of those that divided, went beyond the guilty verdicts, as both Pena and Bronson should remember seeing Wolverine's son Jojo tortured and beaten in court, or Dr Clark in shackles for three months, or the murder attempts against Flo Sampson, John 'Splitting the Sky' Hill and other Ts'Peten Defenders. After all's said and done and I repeat 'THERE IS A HELL OF A LOT MORE THAT HAS TO BE DONE' for the sake of common justice, I remain clearly focused in my knowledge that there are active members of the RCMP in "B.C." that are guilty of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Even though their criminal behavior is documented on audio, video, and court record, they continue with the same impunity given to the active criminals in Chiapas, Mexico (white guards, state police, federal army etc.).

It doesn't take long for a weekly periodical to gain or lose the respect of the public, and there are enough people in Victoria that have a good basic knowledge of the standoff and trial to keep the truth alive. Once you lose the respect of your reading public you'll also lose the attention of your advertisers; I don't think the RCMP is willing to keep your magasine afloat for more than a couple of issues and I'm sure that the Attorney General of "B.C." would rather that the words Gustafsen Lake didn't even exist. He showed where he stands on the issue of justice when he gave the green light, go ahead to shoot to kill all of the camp members (the majority of whom were unarmed). There are many evil things involving this situation that can also be attributed to him, but sadly corruption is something that "Canadians" have grown to tolerate from their politicians. Indian people of the Americas have 505 years under their belt of surviving the corruption of the Bruce Josephson's, RCMP's, "national" gov'ts., provincial or state "gov'ts", apathetic (complicit?) general public etc. I have to admit that "activists" or "people who care enough to do something about it" like me do have a selfish agenda. I feel good to say I've had ENOUGH of the common crime of idiots who claim to represent me, or protect justice etc.


C Kevin Junck-Bravo

[S.I.S.I.S. note: the following letter refers both to the original Sherryl Yeager article and to the follow-up article, which is posted at]

Saturday, December 20, 1997


What thoroughly pointless articles about Gustafsen Lake by Sherryl Yeager. She can't even get the facts right: Jones William Ignace was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. OJ Pitawanakwat's name was spelled wrong. Bruce Clark did not throw papers at Judge Friesen. Bruce Clark was censored, assaulted, imprisoned, smeared, threatened, subjected to sleep deprivation for an entire weekend, all for supporting the rule of law which the settler courts lack the integrity to address.

If, by covering Gustafsen Lake now, Monday is trying to right the wrongs committed by the media during the standoff and trial, it has failed miserably with these articles. It has already been conceded by a Province reporter that the BC media knowingly lied to the public. Why not tell the truth based on the facts discovered through trial evidence so that the public gets informed about the truth rather than being continually served up recycled RCMP propaganda as fact?

When journalism erodes to the point where it no longer searches for simple truth, accepts the versions of events of the police, military and government, and presents them as facts; when journalists decide that people defending their land ARE militants, squatters, renegades, terrorists, doomsday cultists, criminals, as it did during Gustafsen Lake with absolute indifference to the reality of international law pertaining to Indian sovereignty, then what is considered society should rightly panic. Because whatever chance there was that this corrupt, disintegrating industrial culture could ever be overcome, is fading fast. For whomever controls information will always win the war, and it cannot be clearer what kind of people control of our information.

Chris Morabito

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