Interview with Dacajewiah [The following article is from Bulldozer #1, Spring 1997. Bulldozer, an excellent paper covering justice-related issues from an anti-colonial perspective, is available from PSC Publishers, PO Box 5052, Station A, Toronto, Ont., Canada M5W 1W4. Subscriptions are $10/5 issues. Bulldozer is put out by the same collective who did Prison News Service, the main anti-prison paper within North America, for the last 15 years. Highly recommended reading.]


This section of Bulldozer will honour different ex-prisoners we know and respect, who serve as examples that it is possible to become politicized or politically active while incarcerated, and effectively transfer those organizational skills to the outside. We want to honour those who have been successful in their struggles not to be broken either by the abuse and brutality of prison, or by the overwhelming pressures of adapting to life on the outside. We have created this section to promote hope and self-esteem in all people (both inside and outside) who are fighting to maintain a life of balance and struggle.

Dacajewiah (a.k.a. Splitting The Sky, a.k.a. John Hill), a lifelong revolutionary fighter and pan-Indigenist activist from the Mohawk Nation, is one such person who has exited the iron house and continued to be active and effective in fighting for the liberation of not only all Mohawk people, not only all Native people, but all peoples of the Earth.

Dacajewiah was the only prisoner to come to trial after the 1971 Attica prison uprising. In response to the racism and extreme brutality of the guards, and the indifference of the administration to the prisoners' demands, 1200 prisoners seized 42 hostages and took over a major section of the prison in an action that grabbed the attention of the American people and state. Four days later, New York state police and the local sheriff's department launched an all-out attack. Thirty-nine prisoners and 9 of the 11 remaining hostages in the yard were murdered, and over 80 prisoners (including Dacajewiah) were shot and injured.

The surviving prisoners were forced to walk through a gauntlet of guards into the next yard. They were pummelled and abused in the passageway, and when they exited, they were forced to the ground. The men were stripped naked, beaten severely, forced to crawl in the mud, and held at gunpoint the entire day. Dacajewiah himself was smashed upside the head with a rifle butt and thrown off a 40-foot catwalk, miraculously surviving. It was this mass murder which first led him to understand, as he puts it, "what the Native peoples of north amerikkka have felt historically when facing such massacres."

Dacajewiah was singled out and charged for the death of the one guard who had died at the beginning of the uprising. At his trial he was represented by the late civil rights attorney William Kunstler and his case was celebrated nationally and internationally. He was convicted of murder in April 1975, and sentenced to 20 years to life (this was shortly after the brief moratorium on the death penalty).

A national scandal broke out when it was reported by Malcolm Bell, a New York Times reporter, that Nelson Rockefeller, the New York state governor, ordered his head of criminal investigations to suppress all evidence of the events at Attica which would be presented before the second grand jury (which was slated to investigate the nighttime extra-judicial tortures and murders that occurred after the initial massacre).

Shortly after this, a commission ordered the book on Attica closed, enacted by the dismissal of all pending charges against any prisoners charged in connection to the rebellion, a blanket amnesty against all the state troopers responsible for carrying out the massacre, and the granting of executive clemency for Dacajewiah. Nonetheless, he was denied parole, and spent three more years at Greenhaven State Prison before his release in 1979, when he made it on to the Andrew Young list of U.S. political prisoners under the Carter administration.

Since his release, Dacajewiah has remained active in many indigenous land struggles, travelling throughout the continent, most recently partaking in the armed defence of Shuswap territory at Ts'peten (a.k.a. Gustafsen Lake), covered elsewhere this issue. He is one of the spokespeople for the Ts'peten Defenders and the campaign to free Wolverine (a.k.a. Jones William Ignace). After giving me the most graphic and vivid account of the rebellion and massacre imaginable, I asked him about how he has managed to stay out of the joint and stay active while keeping his spirit intact.

By Daniel Rojas Orrego

Daniel Rojas Orrego: A lot of folks who get politicized in prison, especially folks who've been inside for decades on end have difficulty transferring their organizational skills to the outside. They often times end up going back inside for similar reasons to what they went inside [for] in the first place. I was wondering how have you managed to keep your spirit intact and what is it that you'd pass on to any folks coming out of the joint with no idea of what's awaiting them out here?

Dacajewiah: You have to stay actively involved on the outside and you have to find people who are actively involved on the outside. My highest priority was to involve myself in the Native rights movement. I've become a very staunch advocate of Native activism. I'm a fighter. I know what the power of the state is. I have learned very well all of their tricks. I continue to study how they enforce domination and control. I have applied the genius that the powers-that-be of the spirit world have given to me. I apply years of experience and study to engage the opposition where it threatens the right of Native peoples to survive within our territories, which are unceded. To maintain and affirm the necessity of the right of sovereign existence, nation to nation.

I am an advocate who believes that all people have the right to be free and enjoy the fruits of life and shouldn't be dominated by oppressive forces anywhere in the world. I've been able to work with Native brothers and sisters all over the world. I go where the spirit takes me and when I get there I apply my belief in whatever circumstances are presented to me as was the case at Gustafsen Lake.

It hasn't been easy. It's never been easy, especially when they control all of the resources. It's hard to maintain yourself. The temptation out here is to get lost in the confusion and the exploitation of the world and the decadence of this society and what it is producing in terms of people out of work and people oppressed and people starving, people sick and people homeless. The contradictions between the haves and have-nots and the gulf is ever expanding.

In my particular world I have found it necessary to remove myself from the urban setting and to put myself back into a land-based struggle. It is necessary to maintain the basic necessities that people need to live and survive off the land. We have to wean ourselves from the dependency on the capitalist structure that forces us to become dependent upon its slave industry, exploitive system and its dependency on the basic economic necessities of life. For us to survive as a people we have to revisit the land and the spirit of doing for oneself.

One self transferred to another one's self then becomes the will and the spirit of a nation to exercise self-determination with the territories we control -- our homeland. Subsequently I have gotten beyond trying to exist in a world that is inherently corrupt, inherently designed to destroy itself. I've moved outside of the urbanization and control of those who have got us boxed into a concrete prison or a concrete reservation, moving to those territories, those people and all my relations that are fighting to control the land that we have never relinquished. Subsequently we have taken the laws they have enforced as international treaties and agreements and we're exercising the right to defend those territories for the good of our communities, relations and the future yet to come.

After seeing so much blood and so much oppression and the real face of the fascist police state that protects the interests of those who control the economics of this world, I have no qualms whatsoever about the necessity to defend our territories against this beast that can never seem to get enough; against this parasite which doesn't care whose blood it sucks in order to obtain its domination and control. I don't believe any human being in their natural mind should have this obsession with materialism and this obsession with the need to control. I believe those bureaucracies are only reflecting their own insecurities -- ultimately they must know that the contradiction between the haves and have-nots is going to come to its ultimate conclusion, a complete breakdown. Anything and everything is possible.

One thing that is imminent is that resistance will manifest in whatever form it finds itself regionally and at the time it is in. So we have to be really clear about that, we have to determine how we can best survive and prepare ourselves for the ultimate collapse. We can not exist in a domain that has us boxed in. The law of the guerilla warrior is to understand you don't get yourself trapped within the terrain controlled by your enemy, you bring the enemy to the terrain which you control. And that's about the best advice that I can give anyone, looking in.

Back to SIS