Sep/95: Gustafsen Lake-Life Inside the Ts'peten Camp


Trond Halle (camp videographer)
September, 1995

Soon after the police labelled the Defenders of Ts'peten as terrorists, the camp received a copy of the Vancouver Sun in which Percy was identified as the leader of the group. As we stood around the fire reading the article, we all chuckled and turned to Percy. "Hey Percy," Someone said, "did you know you're a leader?" He laughed and shook his head. Why did we all think this was so funny? Because the concept of leadership had never been an issue in the camp. But the :media had preconceived ideas that if there was a bunch of people working together effectively, then there had to be a leader. Such was not the case at Ts'peten.

My name is Trond Halle and I was the non-native videographer for the camp during the Sundance and the ensuing standoff. It was a learning experience for me because I too had preconceived ideas of how to get people to work together. I didn't believe anything would get done unless there was a hierarchical structure in place with a leader and followers. I believed that people could not be responsible for their own actions and therefore, needed guidance and instructions from some central figure. But then I saw how it was at the camp. No leadership. No orders. No structure at all. And somehow, out of this chaotic ballet, things got done. There was always food, firewood, and security. I rarely heard anyone being told what to do. People just saw a task that needed to be done and proceeded to do it. Sometimes they would inform the camp of their task and before you knew it, a handful of people would offer their assistance. Unbelievable, I thought. I had never seen anything like it before.

However, since I was a former soldier, I was quite concerned about the effect that this lack of direction would have on the warriors. The unstructured approach may have worked for camp chores, but when lives were at stake, could it work to ensure the `security of the camp? Yes it could! Warriors simply thought for themselves and came together as teams, moving and working wherever their help was needed. To give an example, late one afternoon, someone heard a branch crack near the camp. Immediately, Wolverine was on it and headed into the bush to investigate. A warrior saw that he was alone and Joined him. Percy climbed a tree with his binoculars and scanned the tree-line for movement. Another warrior guarded him. A couple of warriors saw what was going on and took off into another part of the bush. other warriors went on alert and guarded the camp. After an hour or so. the warriors began to drift back into camp, having discovered nothing. Food was waiting for them. Throughout this episode, no commands were barked out and no one took charge as "leader". And yet, the camp's safety was assured. The same thing happened during the three-hour gun battle on September 11, 1995. Warriors used their own initiative and inevitably ended up where they were needed. To this day, I'm still amazed that 19 Defenders held off 400 police and soldiers. My military upbringing says it's impossible and yet I witnessed it with my own eyes.

But I shouldn't have been that surprised. I could always feel the strong spiritual power in the camp. It was a calming presence of immense power that could not be denied and it contributed to the relaxed atmosphere of the camp. Even when we were all sure that an RCMP attack was minutes away, there wasn't any fear in the Defenders. Instead, there was a steadfast conviction that what we were doing was right and that the Great Spirit was protecting the Defenders of the sacred grounds. How else to explain that during the big gun battle, Toby and Flo, our women elders, were calmly making coffee and tending Suniva's wounded arm even though bullets whizzed past them and through the treetops overhead. I even saw a few smiles exchanged. That typified the spirit of the camp.

A few days before we eventually left the camp, Percy and Wolverine went off together to discuss the imminent attack by the cops. When they returned, Wolverine told us that he didn't feel it would be right for him to take on the role of the Creator and put the young people's lives on the line. While he may have been an "old fella" the people in the camp still had many years ahead of them. Although he would have preferred to stay and fight to the end, he put the young people's lives above his own desires. I will always love and respect him for that difficult and courageous decision. Percy too felt the great weight of responsibility on his shoulders and agreed with Wolverine that perhaps it was time to leave. A few days after this, John Stevens, the camp's medicine' man, arrived and validated Percy and Wolverine's decision. He assured them that the camp had accomplished a very important spiritual goal. The western door had been opened and now we could leave.

Since leaving the camp, I find myself missing the daily prayer songs that greeted the rising sun every morning. Whether I was asleep or up with the singers, the drumming and singing echoed throughout the camp and my spirit. I was soon humming the songs with the singers. And Percy's calm, deep strength was always comforting. I understand that the rumour still persists that there was a split in the camp between the hawks and the doves. That was a rumour first started by that DIA waterboy Mercredi. Certainly most people have a bit of both in their personal make ups and the Defenders were no different, but 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. There were no leaders in that camp. There were Elders whose words were respected, but in the end, every individual in the camp took responsibility for their own actions. We were a family and we took care of each other. There was a strong and enduring bond of love, greater than anything I'd ever felt before. It didn't take a leader to create those bonds. They were always there, but it took a situation like this to bring them out.

Without a doubt, the only divisions that existed and continue to exist were the ones outside of the camp. I kept thinking that we were in the eye of a hurricane. outside, there were forces swirling around us, trying to figure out what to do next, but inside, there was calm. Instead of worrying, we sipped coffee around the fire and laughed at the craziness of it all. I wouldn't have traded positions with anyone on the outside. I'm all for maintaining divisions in the Enemy's camp, but I think it's time now to heal those in ours. Instead of calling each other down, it's time to realize that we're all fighting the same fight, regardless of the methods used. We should unconditionally support one another and respect each other's bravery in the ongoing battle for justice and freedom. Remember - when we fight amongst ourselves, we're doing the work for the Enemy. In unity there is strength.

With love and warm regards to all the supporters who continue to keep the struggle alive. Freedom!

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