On July 30, after the longest trial in Canadian history, Canadian Government Judge Josephson sentenced 12 indigenous sovereignty activists to prison for defending their sacred land. Although the jury acquitted the activists of the most serious attempted murder charges, they were convicted of lesser charges. The judge handed down stiff sentences including an 8 year prison term for a 66 year old Shaswap elder known as Wolverine, who led the defense of the site. Three others were convicted but spared imprisonment.
The sentences are the culmination of a systematic military/political attack on the British Columbian native activists. In 1989, Shuswap faith keeper Percy Rosette asked a cattle rancher, Lyle James, if he could hold a sundance festival on a small part of a vast cattle ranch near 100 Mile House, BC. James agreed and the sundance was held every year thereafter at a native burial ground and holy place called Ts’Peten (or Gustafsen Lake).
Although a large American cattle company claims it owns Ts’Peten, the ranch is on unceded, unsurrendered Shuswap traditional territory. Under international law, the absence of a treaty or sale of the land voids the cattle company’s land claim against the Shuswap.
As people gathered for the sundance on June 3, 1995, James and 20 cowboys arrived and served a homemade eviction paper, demanding that the natives leave the area. Rosette and the others refused to leave and called for support. Several who answered the call brought rifles. The sundance was concluded but some activists stayed on the land to press their demands for ownership. Police, meanwhile, surrounded the site and a 31 day standoff began. 18 adult defenders were trapped by 400 police and army troops armed with Armored Personnel Carriers, machine guns and high tech surveillance equipment.
On September 11, a native truck was blown up by a land mine and rammed by an APC. Miraculously, the two occupants were able to survive the blast, run through the forest, swim across the lake, and eventually surrender while dodging 20,000 bullets. Police repeatedly attacked the defenders and the Canadian press portrayed the defenders as terrorists. Through the whole crisis, the defenders fired 106 bullets while the police shot 77,000, according to police records revealed during the trial. On September 17, 1995, the defenders surrendered.
The trial lasted from July 1996 to May 1997. The judge refused to permit the defenders to introduce evidence showing that the government and the Courts have no jurisdiction over Ts’Peten because it is unceded native land. The trial also revealed numerous instances of police misconduct, many caught on police video tape. The evidence released during the trial indicated that police and government officials participated in a conspiracy to kill the occupants of the Ts’Peten Sundance Camp while smearing them in the press.
Activists are now calling for public pressure to Free the Ts’Peten Defenders. 140 Department of Indian Affairs Band Council Chiefs have signed a petition demanding an inquiry into the attempted murder against the Indian People at Ts’Peten.
Meanwhile, government officials, stung by the information released during the trial, are arguing over whether they will conduct a federal or a BC based investigation of the siege. But activists don’t believe that either government body can conduct a fair investigation, since they would in essence have to investigate themselves. Activists are calling for an independent, impartial, international third party to investigate the siege and the trial.
Letters demanding a real investigation can be sent to:
Prime Minister Jean Chretien
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ont. K1A 0A6
For more information, contact:
Settlers in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty
PO Box 8673
Victoria, BC, V8X 3S2
CRUCIAL QUESTIONS TO MAKE THIS WHOLE THING MORE CREDIBLE:
1. What American cattle company claims it owns the land.
2. First name of the judge