Gustafsen Lake Standoff: Protesters Renew Calls For An Inquiry
Above Photo: William Jones Ignace, also known as Wolverine, shown in the centre, led a protest in 1995 on a private ranch that he and other First Nations claimed was on their unceded territory. (Canadian Press)
Several First Nations protesters involved in the 1995 Gustafsen Lake standoff are calling for a national inquiry into the level of force used by the RCMP during the 31-day confrontation.
Protest leader William Jones Ignace, known as Wolverine, and the Ts’Peten Defence Committee submitted a letter on Jan. 4 to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, calling for an inquiry.
“The brutal force that was leveled against the defenders, some of which were 14, 15, and 16 years old, [and] young pregnant women, is utterly abhorrent,” said Anushka Azadi, a spokesperson for the committee.
Wolverine, now 82, was too sick to provide comment to CBC News, but Azadi spoke on his behalf, saying he wants the following to come out of an inquiry:
“A conversation specifically about his jail time, and why they were persecuted for crimes when what they were doing was enacting their own tribal, traditional laws. Additionally he says he wants the RCMP officially charged for treason.
“Lastly, maybe the most important thing … is a settlement of the land question, that is the question of unceded and unsurrendered territory.”
Occupation sparked standoff
The standoff began when about 20 First Nations protesters occupied a piece of ranch land near 100-Mile House that they said was sacred and part of a larger tract of unceded territory.
In response the RCMP brought in 400 armed officers, backed by helicopters and armoured personnel carriers, blew up a supply pick-up truck with buried explosives, and fired thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Both sides exchanged gunfire and one person was injured but no one was killed in the confrontation.
Wolverine spent five years in jail for his role in the standoff.
At the time of verdict, defense lawyer Don Campbell called for a national inquiry into the RCMP’s actions, but both the provincial and federal governments refused.
Protester hopes to return to Canada
Wolverine’s right-hand man in the protest, James Pitawanakwat, was sentenced to three years in prison, but when he was granted parole after one year, he fled to the United States.
Canada sought his extradition, but he was granted political asylum from a judge in Oregon.
Pitawanakwat spoke to CBC News from his home in Michigan and said he would like to return home, and hopes that a national inquiry could help.
“The reason I left Canada was because there was a … miscarriage of justice pertaining to the rule of law,” he said.
CBC News requested to speak with Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould. Her office acknowledged that they received Wolverine’s letter, but would not comment further.