Tag Archives: History lesson

History lesson: the Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake) standoffs

An open letter from Secwepemc elder Wolverine (also known by his colonial name William Jones Ignace) to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been making the rounds on social media recently. Wolverine was a major figure in the Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake) standoff between the RCMP/Canadian Armed Forces and Secwepemc Sundancers and their allies in British Columbia in 1995. In his letter, Wolverine urges the Prime Minister to launch a national inquiry into the standoff.

His letter is powerfully eloquent and well worth reading in full, as are his protege Harsha Walia’s comments on the man and his legacy. I’m quoting him at length but I strongly urge you to read the whole thing:

Today I am writing to you to request that you initiate a federal public inquiry into the events surrounding the month long standoff at Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake), British Columbia in 1995, an event which cast a deep shadow on the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous nations, which to this day has not been adequately investigated.

In 1995, after a long history of peaceful attempts to have Secwepemc sovereignty respected, Indigenous people from the Secewpemc nation and their supporters took a stand on sacred Sundance lands at Ts’Peten, aka Gustafsen Lake. The incident began after a local white rancher, Lyle James began demanding that the sacred Secwepemc Sundance Camp leave land to which he claimed ownership. Approximately 24 Sundancers set up camp to defend Ts’Peten. I was one of those people.

Beginning in August 1995, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) surrounded the Ts’Peten Defenders. Over the next month police, politicians, and media escalated the situation to make the siege the most expensive and largest domestic military operation in Canada’s history: armoured personnel carriers, .50 calibre machine guns, land mines, and an astonishing 77,000 rounds of ammunition were directed at the land defenders. In the course of the standoff, RCMP shot at unarmed people and at people in negotiated no-shoot zones. RCMP Superintendent Murray Johnston expressed the belief that a resolution to the standoff would “require the killing” of the defenders, including myself. Although this thankfully did not come to be, the unjust and violent actions carried out against the Secwepemc people during the siege remains strong in our memories to this day.

Despite the twenty years that have passed since the Ts’Peten standoff, the core issues that so forcefully clashed against each other remain at the forefront of the hearts and minds of Indigenous people. That is our right to self-determination, autonomy and protection from the dispossession of our lands and territories. According to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Aboriginal Title to land exists inherently and will continue to exist until it has been ceded by treaty with the Crown. The land on which the Ts’Peten standoff occurred was, and remains to this day, unceded territory. The land at Ts’Peten was never handed over by the Secwepemc Nation to Canadian control through treaty or otherwise, and is therefore land that cannot have been sold to settlers by the Canadian or British Columbian governments. The use of Canadian paramilitary forces against the people of the Secwepemc nation asserting our inherent jurisdiction and title over our own territories therefore is a serious abrogation of the Nation to Nation relationship between the Canadian government and the Secwepemc Nation.

This abrogation has yet to be properly investigated, and remains one of the largest stains on relations between Indigenous nations and the Canadian state. A public federal inquiry is long overdue into the actions of the RCMP, the Canadian government and the provincial government of British Columbia.

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“A massive campaign of serious disruption” – the way forward for the environmental movement?

Next Sunday, July 5, Toronto will play host to a March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate. The march aims to unite labour, the environmental movement, and activists from First Nations and racialized communities, and organizers hope to draw thousands of people to the streets. From their call to action:

This July, Toronto will host a Pan American Climate Summit and an Economic Summit, where politicians will face a choice: listen to corporate leaders from across the Americas gathering to advance an economic austerity agenda that is increasing inequality and causing a climate crisis felt disproportionally in the global south – or listen to the people.

On the eve of those summits, let’s make sure they hear our demands:  a justice-based transition to a new energy economy, in which corporate polluters pay and ordinary people benefit.

The only way to overcome a small, powerful group who have a lot to lose is to build a massive movement of people with everything to gain.

That final line got me to thinking about an excellent piece on mass movement building by Steve D’Arcy I read earlier this week. The article, titled “A Path to Victory Against Austerity in Ontario?”, examines the history of resistance to the Mike Harris government’s austerity regime in the mid-1990s in an effort to create strategies for anti-austerity activists going forward. One of his main points is that large numbers of people in the street is not by itself sufficient to force governments to alter their policies:

Big business would never allow an elected government, of whatever party, to reverse the policy trajectory of recent years — the “austerity” agenda — simply because that agenda is unpopular and lots of people are protesting it. No, only a massive campaign of serious disruption could force the hand of elites and raise the political cost of austerity to the point where proceeding with austerity would be judged by big business to be too dangerous to their interests.

This is critically relevant for the environmental movement to take note of. The past year has featured numerous massive marches for the environment, and precious little actual progress.

Last September, hundreds of thousands of people around the world took the streets for the People’s Climate March, coordinating the action with an international summit on climate change in New York City. Unlike the march, which was the largest climate-focussed rally in human history, the summit was a failure, with no major action announced.

In March, Londoners again took to the streets in the tens of thousands to urge action at this winter’s Paris Climate Summit. Naomi Klein, speaking by remote video link, urged protestors to be the change they wanted to see: Continue Reading

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