Sep 12/95: Gustafsen Lake-mainstream news chronology


Vancouver Sun
September 12, 1995
Mark Hume - Staff Reporter

[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only, as an example of how mainstream media treats indigenous resistance to genocide. It may contain biased and distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context.]

Five years ago Cariboo rancher Lyle James was approached by a native Indian elder, Percy Rosette, who wanted to use a site at Gustafsen Lake for an annual sundance ceremony.

Rosette had seen the place in a vision.

James agreed reluctantly. At first, everything seemed fine, and then, in 1993, the first signs of trouble emerged when summer campers reported they were harassed by native Indians at the lake.

Splitting the Sky, a Mohawk who was in the camp until mid-August, told The Vancouver Sun the campers had been partying loudly at the lake and that some of them "had been shooting their guns off, trying to kill every gopher they could see."

Whatever happened between native Indians and campers, it left a feeling of uneasiness in the 100 Mile House area and many people started avoiding the popular fishing site.

The next summer passed without incident -- but this spring things became ugly. Here's a detailed chronology.

June 13:
A growing dispute between the sundancers and James comes to a head after native Indians fence off the religious site, blocking cattle from the area.

James arrives at the camp bearing an eviction notice. He brings along about a dozen ranch hands "for support" and to witness the serving of the notice.

There is a wide disparity between the Indian and non-Indian version of what occurs that day.

Splitting the Sky says: "About 15 of his hands drove up in 4x4s and pickups. They pulled out rifles and threatened to kill them. One of them pulled out a bull whip and said: 'This is a good day to string up some red niggers.'"

James denies any of that happened.

"There was no confrontation. We went in and served them the notice," james said. "WE didn't have any arms whatsoever."

June 14:
Two members of the B.C. forest service are near the lake inspecting timber when they see people in the trees. Suddenly there's a loud gunshot and the forestry workers see dust fly from the road in front of them. They flee, unhurt.

July 19:
The sundancers issue a press release describing themselves as "defenders of sovereign unceded Shuswap territory." They announce that they are making preparations "to resist an invasion by the RCMP."

The press release quotes their lawyer, Bruce Clark, as advising them that "as a matter of strict law, you are acting within your existing legal rights by resisting the invasion."

July 20:
According to James, one of his ranch hands goes to the camp alone, on horseback, looking for a halter and hobbles that had been stolen. As he's leaving, six shots are fired at him.

July 26:
Two native Indian fisheries officers encounter six men who say they are from the Gustafsen Lake camp. As the fisheries officers leave, one shot is fired into the air by someone in the group.

August 11:
A pivotal development takes place when two native Indians from Gustafsen Lake -- Dave Penna [sic] and Ernest Archie -- are arrested by fisheries officers for allegedly gillnetting salmon in the Fraser River during a closed period. Searching their truck the officers find a weapons cache -- including an AK-47, a Soviet assault rifle that is popular with guerrilla organizations. The rifle has a magazine with 30 rounds of ammunition, which it can fire in three seconds.

The two men are taken into custody along with their arsenal: a loaded AK-47, a Glock 9-mm semi-automatic pistol loaded with Black Talon bullets designed to inflict maximum damage on human tissue, knives, machetes, camouflage clothing and a garrote made of piano wire.

Aug. 18:
As a police patrol moves through the woods near Gustafsen Lake a native Indian dressed in combat fatigues fires a shot, narrowly missing an officer. Police withdraw.

"It was not a warning shot. It was directed right at him. It was meant to kill," Insp. Len Olfert of the Kamloops subdivision says later.

That afternoon Splitting the Sky, who is at his home in Hinton, Alta., gets a frantic call from the camp.

"Percy (Rosette) and Toby (Penna) [sic] were screaming in a panic. Percy said, 'We're under attack, Doc! There's military men in camouflage! They have automatic weapons...Help! Help!'" he says.

Later that day, in Vancouver, RCMP Sgt. Peter Montague, the force's top media relations official, calls a few major news outlets to alert them to a major story in the Cariboo.

Aug. 19:
The media are taken on an RCMP flight to Williams Lake where they are briefed on events at Gustafsen Lake. In a press conference reporters are shown the weapons cache and hear from James and a local native Indian leader, Chief Bill Chelsea of the Cariboo Tribal Council.

Aug. 20:
Toby Pena, in a radio phone interview from Gustafsen Lake, tells The Sun the people there are "terrified" of a police invasion.

Supt. Olfert, head of the Kamloops subdivision, says: "With the incidents of shooting that have taken place, ultimately the area will have to be secured and hopefully they will reconsider their position and leave.

"We know the weaponry is there and we also now know that they're prepared to use it. We clearly associate this as an act of terrorism."

Says B.C. Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh: "Gustafsen Lake has nothing to do with aboriginal land-claim issues. It's purely to do with the weapons there and th shots that have been fired."

Aug. 21:
A Sun reporter who visits the camp is told by Wolverine: "(Police) and the media, you are all part of the New World Order. They'll have to take us out in body bags."

Aug. 23:
Ovide Mercredi, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, offers to help mediate, stating: "The Assembly of First Nations has never supported violence or the use of weapons."

Premier Harcourt, attending a leaders conference in St. Johns Nfld, inflames things by telling reporters that the Gustafsen Lake sundancers are seized by a "cult mentality."

Aug. 24-26:
Mercredi arrives and visits the camp -- but gets a cold reception.

Aug. 27:
At 3:40 pm, two RCMP officers are shot in the back as they and two others protect three forestry workers brought in to clear fallen trees from a road. The two officers get burns and bruises from the slugs that rip into their bullet proof vest, but otherwise are unhurt. Their truck is hit dozens of times.

Aug. 29:
After a day of exhaustive meetings at the Red Coach Inn, rancher James signs an agreement with leaders of the Canoe Creek Indians, which will allow the sundance to continue.

Lawyer Clark makes first direct contact with those at the camp, using a police radio phone.

Aug. 31:
Clark, growing frustrated with waiting for police to approve a visit to the camp, gets up at 4:40 a.m. and telephones RCMP to say he's going in. He spends $100 at the local 7-Eleven on coffee, tobacco and food. At the roadblock Clark is turned away because he lacks proper clearance. He threatens to leave -- and is headed off to a police negotiator at the Williams Lake airport. Begged to stay and help broker a police deal, Clark agrees and is quickly whisked through police barricades.

That evening Clark emerges from the camp to declare that the sundancers were fired on first by the police and have only been acting in self defence. He says the RCMP have no jurisdiction over the area and his clients are justified in shooting at them.

Sept. 1-3:
Clark leaves over the weekend. Police say he has contributed nothing to the search for a peaceful settlement.

Police negotiators turn to friends, relatives and elders who through radio phone calls, try convince [sic] those inside the compound to come out.

Sept. 4:
At 8:45 p.m. a short gunfight erupts between RCMP officers and those at the camp. The fight started, say police, when a RCMP patrol vehicle was fired upon. No one was hurt, but police later say armed militants from the camp pursued members of an RCMP patrol.

Sept. 5:
Four military armored personnel carriers roar past the outer perimeter, headed for the camp area. Police say the National Defence APCs will be used to transport RCMP patrols.

Sept. 7:
Just before noon an RCMP helicopter is sent to investigate a red truck that is heading away from the fortified encampment. The truck is spotted 4 km from the camp -- and then gunfire erupts, with four shots aimed at the copter.

Sept. 8-10:
A delegation of native Indian elders go into the camp for what turns out to be two days of talk. Little information is released.

Sept. 11:
The day starts quietly, with another delegation going into the camp. But shortly after the native Indian negotiators emerge, gunfire erupts.

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