Whose Province?

The following is the text of a 4-page pamphlet that was laid out in a mock version of the right-wing Vancouver newspaper "The Province".


                November, 1995                      Vancouver, B.C.


The RCMP, media and government had most people convinced the Gustafsen standoff was illegal. Inside, we provide some context that takes issue with most of the so-called facts.


1. The land claims of the Shuswap Defenders is illegitimate.

2. The Defenders of the Shuswap Nation are violent criminals.

3. The heroism and restraint of the RCMP led to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

4. The Defenders, like all Natives, receive special treatment from the police and the government.

5. Appeal by the Defenders and lawyer Bruce Clark to the Queen and International court is absurd.

6. There is no support for the Defenders within the Native community.

7. The Defenders are not Shuswap, but outside agitators from eastern Canada and the U.S.

8. Because the Sundance ceremony is a recent import, the Defenders and their claim are unauthentic.

9. The Defenders are fanatical conspiracy theorists.

10. Defenders' leader William Ignace (Wolverine) and Clark are deranged.


You have been lied to.

Lies are told to cheat the truth. Lies are told to keep you confused, paralyzed. Lies are told to keep you silent, passive, compliant.

In the Gustafsen Lake siege, lies were told to instill confusion; to construct criminals. Bad Indians on the warpath. Doomsday cults.

Lies were perpetuated to keep us silent - to have us trust the cops. Political agitator, terrorists, body-bag renegade, Indians with guns...

We are non-Natives, people of colour and Whites, who have come together to demonstrate our support for the struggles of indigenous peoples for land and self determination.

As a first step, we have challenged the myths put forth by the RCMP and the mainstream media during the siege at Gustafsen Lake.



The land claim of the Shuswap Defenders is illegitimate.


According to the media, the Shuswap Defenders were simply trespassing on private land, which white cattle rancher Lyle James has owned for 20 years.

That their claims to ownership and sovereignty could be made to appear so ludicrous is testimony to the profound historical amnesia that prevails among non Natives in B.C.

By and large, the media have simply ignored the history of legal and political manipulation by which First Nations' land has been appropriated for White benefit.

But the Defenders' claim is completely reasonable if placed in its proper historical context. Indeed, it is entirely consistent with the basic political position taken by virtually all Native nations and organizations since colonization began, namely, that B.C. First Nations were and continue to be highly developed, self-governing communities with jurisdiction over their own territories (land and water).

The denial of this simple historical fact and moral/political principle is fundamentally racist and remains at the root of non-Native resistance and self determination.

This denial also requires a willful blindness to obligations recognized in British and Canadian law.

The legal touchstone for the Defenders' claim, and for aboriginal rights more generally in Canada, is the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This document became the basis for subsequent government dealings with First Nations, and contains two principles that are fundamental to understanding the present dispute.

First, it recognizes pre-existing aboriginal title to the lands used and occupied by First Nations. And second, it sets out a standard procedure for the ceding of Native territory.

These principles are reflected in the so-called Numbered Treaties 'negotiated' with First Nations in most of central and western Canada. With minor exceptions, however, they have never been honoured in British Columbia.

The Defenders' position is for this reason straightforward: if aboriginal lands were never properly ceded to the Crown, then subsequent transfers to private landowners are invalid, and First Nations retain sovereign jurisdiction.


The Defenders are violent criminals.


In tones of horror and dismay, the media describe the Defenders as armed and violent.

On the other hand, the RCMP were praised for their "use of restraint" even while they stockpiled and flaunted an expensive collection of military weaponry - presumably intended to unleash on non-compliant Defenders.

Not once was the Defenders' choice to use 'violence' in the name of self-defence contextualized in a history of colonial genocide and ongoing police brutality against Native peoples in Canada.

Instead, the media glorified a grotesque display of force by the police while simultaneously portraying Native Defenders as armed and violent criminals.

In a typical depiction, for example, 'The Vancouver Sun' described the Natives as "camouflaged anarchistic AK47 adorned criminals," and "a bunch of hooligans playing Mr. Dress-up for combat" ('Vancouver Sun', August 23, 1995).

They even went so far as to publish alleged "criminal" histories of some of the Defenders.

In so doing, the media promoted the agendas of both the RCMP, who had supplied the information, and the provincial attorney general, Ujjal Dosanjh, who framed the confrontation as a criminal rather than political matter.

This strategy of criminalization is hardly new. It has been used not only against Native peoples, but against many groups whose political resistance to oppression constitutes a threat to the prevailing social order.

By evoking racist constructions of Native 'criminality', the media was able to side-step questions of jurisdiction and sovereignty.


The heroism and restraint of the police led to a peaceful resolution.


In the aftermath of the Gustafsen Lake siege there was widespread public acceptance of the officially sanctioned depiction of the RCMP as heroes.

Favourable comparisons were made between this siege and the way a similar situation would have been handled in the U.S. This was not Waco, Texas, attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh informed us.

The media, not to be outdone by Dosanjh, established its own criteria for characterizing the RCMP as heroes. Thus we read of how the police - though equipped more like an invading army, complete with armoured personally carriers, spy planes, night vision equipment and M16s - had displayed "great restraint in the face of immenùÄpHÄüã`rom the terròVts," and there had been no "loss of life" and that "cultural sensitivity" had been shown in allowing Natives to negotiate with the besieged at Gustafsen.

Ironically, the sole source of all the information emerging from the siege at Gustafsen Lake was the RCMP itself. Exercising a monopoly, they fed the media sugar coated soundbites full of self-fulfilling heroism and celebration. Indeed, the single biggest contributor to the myth of RCMP as heroes was the RCMP itself.

Central to the survival of this myth was the perception that the RCMP's role was singularly responsible for the 'peaceful' resolution of the siege. This too, is myth. Indeed, the siege was brought to a conclusion through the successful involvement of a number of Native political and spiritual leaders sent into the camp by First Nations in solidarity with the besieged.

With a fraction of the vast resources available to the RCMP and the government, the siege was brought to an end by Native peoples themselves.


The Defenders, like all Natives, are given preferential treatment by the RCMP and government.


The media would have us believe that if a group of non-Natives seized a piece of land in the same manner the Defenders had the RCMP would not have negotiated at all - they would have stormed the camp immediately.

According to certain members within the media this is part of a general trend in Canada where the government and police are soft on Natives simply because they are Native.

The suggestion that Native people get preferential treatment by the police and that government is soft on Natives is a blatant lie. In fact, the reverse is true.

Indigenous peoples suffer the greatest oppression of any national group in Canada.

The following statistics make it clear that police brutality, extreme poverty, cultural annihilation, assimilation and imprisonment are all part of Canada's continuing policy on Native people - the ultimate outcome pointing to genocide:

* Native people comprise three percent of the population in Canada, yet they make up 10.6 percent of the federal and 18 percent of the provincial prison population. For federal female prisoners, natives make up 23 percent of the inmate population.

* Life expectancy for natives is 63 years, while the Canadian average is 72 years.

* Native suicide rates are three times the national average. For teenaged native women, that figure is 10 times; for teenaged native men, seven times.

* Non-native Canadian households have an average annual income of $31,000, while native households average $17,300.

(statistics from Oh-Toh-Kin,
Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall/Winter 1992)
The incarceration rates and living conditions imposed on indigenous peoples speak for themselves.

Canada, its government, police and settlers have never been soft on natives. Canada's policies have always been and continue to be genocidal.


Appeal by the Defenders and lawyer Bruce Clark to the Queen and International Court is absurd.


The Defenders' appeal to an independent party outside of Canada, such as the Queen and the International Court, has evolved from a long series of challenges to B.C.'s and Canada's unwritten policy concerning Native rights; see no Native, hear no Native, speak no Native.

The Defenders, as do many first peoples, see themselves as part of a sovereign nation and thus are well within their rights in appealing to parties outside Canada.

The specific appeal to the Queen and her privy council derives from the British Royal Proclamation of 1763. This proclamation maintains that First Nations are sovereign over the lands they have occupied and have used since time immemorial.

Despite the fact that Natives were not even party to its drafting, the proclamation clearly states that Native title to the land will not be extinguished unless voluntarily ceded.

Aside from a portion of Vancouver Island and a small area in the southeast of the province, British Columbia remains unceded territory; a reality the provincial government has stubbornly and shamefully failed to address.

Furthermore, the proclamation has never been repealed and so carries full statutory power and remains an integral element of Native political thought.

:                                                               :
:          The media would have you believe the Shuswap         :
:       Defenders are villains, but the truth is they are       :
:    only acting in self defence -- probably like you would     :
:                   under the same conditions.                  :
:                                                               :


There is no support for the Defenders within the Native community.


Media accounts persistently emphasized that the Defenders were a fringe group who lacked the support of the majority of Native people, particularly those in the general vicinity of Gustafsen Lake.

This is a familiar colonial strategy of divide and conquer, which had served to hinder the development of mass support for the Defenders among Natives and non Natives alike.

The media focused exclusively on opposition to the Gustafsen sovereigntists within the Native community; disregarding the broad grassroots support they attracted among the Shuswap people and from many indigenous nations within B.C., across Canada and around the world.

The media also downplayed the crucial point that Native opposition to the Defenders primarily reflected a disagreement regarding means, not ends. Few, if any, of their Native critics denied that the demands of the Defenders were consistent with the aspirations of many, if not most, First Nations people in Canada.

The media's distorted focus on divisions within the Native community is premised on a racist double standard: it seems that political actions by Natives are only legitimate if they receive unanimous support, a requirement that would never be applied, and could never be met, in non-Native politics.


The Defenders are not Shuswap, but outside agitators from eastern Canada and the U.S.


The atrocious journalism of The Vancouver Sun and The Province consistently perpetuated the myths about "outside agitators" guiding the Defenders' actions at Gustafsen Lake.

Any references the Defenders made to inspiration or solidarity beyond the Shuswap people were inaccurately reported as "being behind" the uprising. When William Ignace (Wolverine) pointed out that Native genocide was a crucial component to the new world order (U.S. military and economic supremacy), The Vancouver Sun erroneously reported that the Defenders were linked to a "U.S.-based group...called the New World Order" (Aug. 24, 1995).

The same article went on to say, "the militants, mostly from eastern Canada and the U.S....are playing a crucial role in the standoff." The Vancouver Sun credits both of these statements to B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt, and makes no attempt to verify or challenge his misleading assertions.

The fact that both Ignace and Percy Rosette, who sounded the initial call for support, are both Shuswap was purposely obscured by Harcourt and the media.

Both the provincial government and the White-dominated media perpetuated the myth of outside agitation to discredit the Defenders and distract attention from the heart of the issue: the sovereignty of the Shuswap nation.


Because the Sundance is an adopted ceremony, the Defenders are imposters to their claim.


During the standoff, the public witnessed a number of strategies employed by the state, the media and the police to divide and discredit Native people.

One of the many tactics was to implicitly question the authenticity of the Sundance ritual and by extension the spiritual values of the Natives.

The suggestions that the Sundance is alien to the rituals of local indigenous nations is rooted in a racist anthropology based on the assumption that Native cultures, lacking the dynamism of Euroamerican culture, remain essentially static through the ages.

More significantly, the irony of Euroamerican society - responsible through its brutal colonial policy of stripping Native people of language, land and culture - deciding what is properly authentic illustrates the incredible arrogance centuries of colonial domination have fostered.

Like many colonized peoples who have had their souls and their land plundered, the indigenous people of North America have attempted to reclaim the values, traditions and spirituality that are both their birthright and their means of negotiating the contemporary political and social landscape.

From the Navajo nation to the Sioux to the Natives at Gustafsen Lake, the Sundance has become a focal point of an empowering spirituality.


The Defenders are fanatical conspiracy theorists.


In the first two weeks of the siege much of the media's attention was devoted to portraying the Gustafsen Lake occupants as either fanatics or criminals. Both distortions served to discredit the Defenders' claim to the land and harm their ability to rally outside support.

Just as the publicizing of criminal records served to reinforce the impression that they were indeed criminals, vague references to 'conspiracy theories' and post-Oklahoma militia networks painted them as crazies.

We can safely assume that this media angle was so short-lived because of the absurdity of connecting militant white-supremacist ideology with Native political thought.

One example of the government's attempt to portray the occupants as a group of crazies was B.C. Premier Mike Harcourt's claim that the Defenders were members of a U.S.-based group calling itself the New World Order.

How Harcourt could exhibit ignorance of the expression is baffling.

When the Defenders were talking about a "new world order", they were referring not to some group, but to a systematic policy of dealing with indigenous peoples worldwide.

Aboriginal peoples around the world are having their human rights violated and their land bases swallowed by the insatiable appetites of big business and big government.

Often, the only thing standing between a company's bulldozer and the plundering of the land are the indigenous people who live there. Given this reality, is it outrageous to claim that aboriginal people are under attack?

When the Defenders placed their experiences in the context of other indigenous peoples - with similar histories of poverty, police brutality, disproportionate rates of imprisonment and expropriation of lands - their concerns were characterized by the media as conspiracy theories.

The liberal use of the term "conspiracy theory" by the press not only served as a convenient distraction from the Defenders' legitimate claims, but serve as a warning to anyone who would dare to connect their personal experiences of oppression to a larger socio-political setting.


Wolverine and Bruce Clark are deranged leaders.


Throughout the standoff, media accounts tended to single out William Ignace (Wolverine) and Bruce Clark for negative treatment, casting them as lunatics.

In part, this reflects a media tendency to frame stories in terms of individual personalities rather than the structures and dynamics of social and political systems. As well, targeting the leaders of progressive movements for vilification is a longstanding strategy of ruling elites who recognize that persistent attacks on leaders have a demoralizing and disorganizing effect upon their communities.

During the Gustafsen standoff, this strategy served in particular to undermine the legitimacy of the Defenders, and hence potential support, by reducing the political strategies of the group to the paranoid and cultish fantasies of the 'deranged' leaders.

Wolverine, for example, was supposed to have a death wish based on his 'apocalyptic' vision of a 'New World Order', and the press replayed endlessly his quote about leaving the camp in "a body bag".

What better justification for a military-style assault by the RCMP?

Bruce Clark, on the other hand, was cast in a role with a long tradition in colonial narratives: that of the treacherous white man stirring up the Natives.

Implicit is the racist notion that Native peoples are incapable of political resistance without white leadership and would indeed follow any maniac deranged enough to lead them.

These images of lunacy are enhanced because their public statements do not make sense within the media's colonial framework.

For instance, Clark was characterized as "erratic" for his repeated accusations of judicial "fraud, treason and genocide."

Such accusations appear wild only because the media failed to inform the public about the precise meaning of these terms in British and international law and because the Eurocentric world view is based on a denial of these broken promises and large-scale extermination that have characterized European colonialism and imperialism throughout the world.


The government's historical unwillingness to settle longstanding Native land claims has over the past decades led to the increasing frustration and anger of Native people.

The government's strategy of dragging out land claims, through interminable legal processes acts to postpone the responsibility of dealing justly with the first inhabitants of the land.

The most recent events at Gustafsen Lake represent a watershed in government-Native relations, and suggest a possible direction for future dealings with Natives.

The unprecedented and unnecessary use of force coupled with the complete control of information and the systemic demonization of the Natives serve to sidestep the issue of land claims in favour of the simplistic equation of cops versus criminals (or cowboys versus Indians).

The government would have you believe that justice was served at Gustafsen Lake. After all, the cowboys won and the Indians will go to prison.

The government and police would have you believe that justice has been done - that justice has always been done.

They would have you believe that people need only place their faith in the government and the police for justice to be served and people need to do nothing more. And that is the biggest myth of all.

Whose Province? was produced by da 'Dis Mountie Crew.

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