Sep 13/95: Gustafsen Lake-Defenders remain in camp


Ernie Yacub
September 13, 1995 - 11 pm

Staff Sergeant Montague of the RCMP called it "an emotional roller coaster" so you can imagine what it has been like for the friends and family of the Defenders of the Shuswap Nation, trapped by a police iron cordon around Gustafsen Lake.

The police and media were expecting the Defenders to lay down their arms and come out peacefully as part of a negotiated agreement between them and the RCMP. The police and the government thought they had carried out their end of the deal, which was to have CBC radio broadcast three times a statement "read by a respected chief of the Shuswap Nation." Chief Antoine Archie read the statement that the Defenders would be "treated with dignity and respect" when they surrendered to the police.

There were high hopes tonight that a peaceful settlement was imminent, particularly since a highly respected Lakota Sioux spiritual leader, Arvol Looking Horse, and several First Nations negotiators spent several hours talking today with the Defenders and discussing the plan. Looking Horse said that he was here on a "mission of peace to pray with the people in the camp. I am not here to talk politics."

The police went so far as to ferry the media in to film the momentous occasion. They waited in vain. Looking Horse and the negotiators came out without the remaining 20 or so Defenders. They did not speak to the police or media, who were left speculating among themselves what had happened. By nightfall, the media reported that "it was still unknown why they didn't come out."

The exagerated reports made by the RCMP two days ago when their land mine disabled the Defenders' red truck and provoked a fire fight turned out to be "wishful thinking." The original report said 3 defenders were wounded, and one of them, a woman, severely. Happily, the woman was only shot superficially in the arm and declined to leave the camp. No other Indian casualties have been reported.

However, one of the RCMP members was badly hurt when one of his stun grenades exploded by accident. Just before that happened, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, in a surprise move, issued a statement supporting the defenders. Kootenai elder, Bill Lightbown said that they did not want anybody to be hurt, defenders or police.

In their support for the Shuswap Defenders, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, recommended referring the conflict to the United Nations. An impartial international third party should be invited to intervene.

Unconfirmed reports blame the RCMP for causing yet another confrontation, and a subsequent firefight, just when a peaceful settlement appeared to be likely. They moved their armed perimeter closer to the camp without informing the defenders and planted a land mine in the road where they would not expect it. The occupants of the truck were on a routine trip to get water. They were ambushed.

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