"There is no point in more meetings (there had been none up to this point), I will not negotiate with renegades. There is only one issue here: law and order. There will be no deals, no talk about land ownership. It is not about land. They can give themselves up to the police for protection or face the consequences. The police will use whatever force is necessary to dislodge them." Ujjal Dosanjh, the former BC Attorney General.
The Gustafsen Lake Standoff of 1995 was the largest para-military action is Canadian history. With over 77,000 rounds of ammunition being shot into the “camp” by both the RCMP and Canadian military, land mines planted around the perimeter of the camp, and 3 months of unbridled tension on both sides of the issue, it's undoubtedly a miracle that no one was killed. For conveneince sake, this is a very brief overview of the events leading up to, during, and after the 3 month standoff.
A Brief Chronology Of Events:
American cattle rancher, Lyle James (who only
has grazing rights to the land surrounding Gustafsen Lake) is informed by Shushwap
Elder, Faith Keeper Percy Rosetta that spiritual leaders had seen visions of a Sundance
site at Gustafsen Lake and would begin using the land for their traditional ceremony for 10 days each year, reviving a 5000+ year old custom on those lands.
William Jones Ignace (Wolverine), one of the Elders organizing the Sundance takes the issue of stolen unceeded lands to the United Nations
June 15 1995-
Faith builds a shelter on the Sundance grounds to begin preparations for the Sundance. Lyle James and 12 ranch hands show up with rifles, pull them out and threatens the Natives. One of them pulls out a bullwhip and says “this is a good day to string up some red niggers!”
. The ranchers then destroy everything around them
. Lyle James presents the Dancers with an eviction notice which they refuse to accept.
June 16 1995-
At 6PM a drunk rancher comes stumbling into the camp proclaiming that the ranchers intend to burn down the council lodge and that the RCMP are planning an invasion into the camp.
June 16 1995-
The Sundancers issued a press release with four demands for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
An investigation of the Governor General’s Office in Ottawa be undertaken to expose illegal leasing and/or selling of Native Lands
on unceeded territory
An investigation into the Department of Indian Affairs
and all cohorts in the various band councils be undertaken to expose illegal leasing and/or selling of Native Lands.
An audience with the Queen of England and the Privy Council be convened to renew the treaty obligations of the Royal Proclamation of 1763
, which states that all unceeded territories will remain unmolested and undisturbed.
That every individual reading this urgent press release is asked to call the RCMP and express their concern over the potential for violence against the occupiers of the Sundance grounds in Shuswap territory. We invite all sundancers to come to Gustafsen Lake and ensure that this Sundance will be held as planned to sustain our inheritance and religious freedom.
June 17 1995-
A meeting between Native Elders, Lyle James and RCMP occurs to try and break the deadlock. No resolution is reached.
June 19 1995-
Counsel for the Natives, Bruce Clark
confirms that “as a matter of strict law, you are acting within your existing legal rights by resisting any invasion”.
June 25 1995-
A series of shots are fired into the camp from an unknown source.
July 2-12 1995-
The Sundance is held.
July 19 1995-
The Native Leaders prepare for RCMP invasion.
July 28 1995-
RCMP have completely surrounded the camp. Communications between the Defenders and their counsel are cut off. The media is not allowed access to the camp, and for the first and only time in Canadian history, a "No Fly Zone
" (remember Iraq
?) is set up over the camp.
August 20 1995-
BC Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh refuses to acknowledge the fundamental issues behind the Defender’s stand saying, “Gustafsen Lake has nothing to do with Aboriginal land claims issues
." (Vancouver Sun, Sept. 12, 1995). He later contradicts himself by saying that it is
a land claims issue, but the methods to forward their (the Defenders) goals are wrong.
August 28 1995-
A vigil held in Toronto
to support the defenders draws 80 people. A group in Victoria
shut down the Attorney General’s office by locking themselves to equipment in his office. At the same time, dozens protest outside the provincial Legislature.
September 5 1995-
RCMP asks the Canadian Army to step in, but the ARMY declines. It was later proven in court that in order to get the Army involved, they (the police), took their flack jackets
out to the firing range, riddled them with bullet holes and presented them to the media, claiming that shots were fired on them by the Defenders. Within 4 days, the Army ATV
’s rolled in, planting Land Mine
s around the camp. One of the officers even went so far as to say, in court "it's not the first time we've had to take our flack jackets to the firing range."
September 11 1995-
Two Defenders and a dog leave the camp in a pickup truck to get water. Enroute, the truck hits a land mine and flips over. The occupants flee the truck unarmed and are shot at by police in a helicopter with M-16 automatic assault rifles. The woman is shot in the arm and the dog is killed as they attempt to flee into the woods. Police estimate at least 60 shots are fired at the unarmed occupants.
September 17 1995-
The Defenders decide to leave the camp voluntarily.
By the end of the standoff, 77,000 round of ammunition were fired into the camp by over 400 officers and Army personnel, many of whom were only given a ½ hour of ‘guerilla operation’ training. I woman was shot, and a dog was killed. The 10 month criminal trial that followed ended in acquittals in relation to 39 of the charges and convictions in relation to 21 charges. The leader, Wolverine, was found guilty of mischief causing danger to life, mischief to property, possession of firearms and explosives, discharging a firearm at police, and using a firearm to assault police officers.
Edward Dick, and Suniva Bronson were found guilty of mischief causing actual danger to life and possession of firearms. Eight others were convicted of mischief to property. Three accused were found not guilty of all charges.
The word "terrorists" was used to describe the Defenders in the local media over 200 times during the 3 months of the standoff.
James Pitawanakwat an American Native at the camp was tried in Portland Oregon. A video of the standoff was presented to the court and evaluated as evidence to U.S. Magistrate Judge, Janice Stewart. On November 15, 2000, Judge Stewart ruled that the video provided uncontradicted evidence that “the Canadian government engaged in a smear and disinformation campaign to prevent the media from learning and publicizing the true extent and political nature of these events”.
The largest operation in RCMP history left many law abiding citizens in jail, beaten, shot at and threatened for crimes that according to our own laws, were not crimes, according to the Royal Proclamation, The Queen Anne Act, and our Constitution. The Queen refused to intervene, although the Royal Proclamation clearly states that she should have. Wolverine’s son, also at the camp was beaten so badly in police custody following his arrest that he now suffers permanent brain damage.
No one in authority has ever been charged in any wrong-doings, nor will they ever. Many cries for a public inquiry have gone unheard, or at least unanswered in an attempt to let the whole issue ‘blow over’. And for the most part, it has.