Two years ago today, 14 indigenous traditionalists and 4 non-native supporters defending sacred, unceded Sundance and burial grounds at Ts'peten (aka Gustafsen Lake in central British Columbia) held off the largest paramilitary operation in Canadian history. Sept. 11, 1995, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assisted by the Canadian Forces (CF) ambushed one of the camp vehicles as it made a customary trip to get drinking water and escort an incoming delegation of elders. RCMP detonated a powerful land mine underneath the vehicle, and moments later a CF 14 ton Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) rammed the vehicle and drove up on top of the front of it.
The two occupants of the camp truck say they felt themselves literally "blown out" of the vehicle. As they fled unarmed across the lake, they were fired upon from an APC and ordered to halt. Seconds later, automatic weapons fire opened up on the swimmers; the white bullet trails through the water are plainly visible on the police aerial surveillance videotape of the incident.
Their impending murder was prevented only by the courageous and selfless entry of the Shuswap elder Wolverine, who succeeded in diverting the attention of the APC. According to the later testimony of the vehicle's CF driver, the APC pursued him "eyeball to eyeball", under orders to "eliminate the shooter". Zig-zagging and firing at the wheels of the tank-like APC, Wolverine too escaped when the APC became disabled running over a tree.
The vastly superior forces of the RCMP and Canadian Forces retreated that day in disarray, after firing tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition. One participating Canadian soldier said it was probably "the biggest land battle by the Canadian military since the Korean War." Yet only one of the Ts'peten Defenders, an unarmed young woman, was shot and wounded by an RCMP sniper.
Wolverine and other Ts'peten Defenders are now political prisoners of the NDP government of the Province of British Columbia, sentenced to between six months and eight years in prison by a court with no lawful jurisdiction to do so. Wolverine was denied counsel of choice, and his impregnable legal arguments showing the continuity of Shuswap Sovereignty and jurisdiction over their traditional, unceded territory were arbitrarily disallowed.
From the Ts'peten Sundance Camp two years ago, the then 64-year old elder announced his defiance of the RCMP's declaration of war and demanded that the nation to nation dispute be settled instead according to the existing international and constitutional law remedies.
From that place of struggle, resistance, and honour come these words of Wolverine.
Wolverine: The big issue is law. The Government of Canada doesn't want to deal with its own laws. We had 11 cases thrown out by the Supreme Court of Canada on the grounds that the issue was "not of public importance to Canada". They refused to listen. So they kicked these cases out.
We don't have any choice but to advance our legal arguments to the Queen's Privy Council of Great Britain - to go back to the place of [Canada's] original jurisdiction, which lies with Imperial Crown of Great Britain. That was once done by the Mohegans in Mohegans vs. Connecticut in 1773. If it was done once it may be done again. For England, the Privy Council of Great Britain, ruled in the Indians favour at that time.
So, we feel that if we advance our legal argument at that level, we are then using international law. For domestic laws don't apply in this situation here. For we are going right to the very top through the Governor General's Office, if he does his job, forwarding our legal demands through the Privy Council into the Queen. These are what we stand for here.
The RCMP has declared war on us and said we are squatters. Squatters. Here on our own homeland. Yet they refuse to deal in law. They only deal with provincial legislation which to us is not law. Because this is still all unceded territory, except for a few small treaty areas made with the Hudson's Bay Company. That part should be called British Columbia but not our lands because we are sitting on untreatied land. So British Columbia should not try to impose their laws upon Indian Peoples.
This is the reason why we're getting into the international arena with the steps that we've taken. And if the Queen doesn't abide by her own laws then European countries should take the Queen to task for not upholding her duty. These are some of the things we're looking at here. Because we are using law not weapons. But we will use weapons in self defence if it comes to that. Because the RCMP declared war on us. So the RCMP, who is supposed to uphold law, isn't doing their duty.
Question: And you're prepared to die here?
Wolverine: That's right. We're prepared to go out in body bags. Either way we win. Canada will have to answer "why did this happen when these people were asking for a peaceful solution to this problem through the Governor-General's office to the Privy Council?" We are using international law; domestic laws do not apply here because now we are dealing nation-to-nation. They cannot criminalize us for our acts, we have immunity from all domestic laws. They cannot charge us in any way because we are a sovereign people.
Question: The government takes this occupation of your lands very seriously?
Wolverine: Yes, because they've already mortgaged this country up to the hilt and the plan is annexation to the United States. This is what NAFTA is all about and Free Trade. These are some of the things that people must understand. The government sees us all as a threat to their plans such as NAFTA. The same thing as the people in Chiapas. They are making a stand over there - they too threaten these plans of the Trilateral Commission.
Question: Have you met with people from Chiapas?
Wolverine: I met with them in 1993 in Albaquerque, New Mexico just before the uprising took place. The message that they gave us then was: "This may be the last time we see you in this life, for when we go home we may be walking the stars." It never hit home what they meant until I got home and saw on TV what took place down there. That was the start of the uprising in Chiapas. But to date, I haven't met with any of them again. I have met with some support groups... I just hope the brothers and sisters down there hear of this and understand that the brothers and sisters of the North country are also prepared to stand and die if necessary - if we can't achieve a peaceful solution.
Wolverine (Jones William Ignace) Political PrisonerCONTACT THE SPOKESPERSONS:
Abbotsford, BC, V2S 5X8 Canada
James Pitawanakwat (OJ) Political Prisoner
same address as Wolverine
Free the Wolverine CampaignSIGN THE PETITION:
Box 13-2147 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, BC, V5N 4B3 Canada
Splitting the Sky - Phone/Fax: (604) 543-9661
Bill Lightbown - Phone: (604) 251-4949
The petition demanding a public inquiry into the Gustafsen Lake crisis is online at:
http://kafka.uvic.ca/~vipirg/SISIS/gustlake/inq_pet.htmlIt can be signed via email by sending a message to SISIS@envirolink.org with "petition" in the subject line and "I support the public inquiry into Gustafsen Lake" in the body of your message.