Inquiry sought into police and military violence against Shuswap land defenders at Ts’Peten

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Shuswap land defender William Jones “Wolverine” Ignace.

The siege at Ts’Peten (Gustafsen Lake) within the Shuswap nation began on August 18, 1995 and culminated in the police using a landmine on September 11 against a pick-up truck carrying firewood and drinking water for the 18 land defenders inside the standoff and a police sniper firing at an unarmed land defender on September 12.

The CBC has reported: “The standoff began in 1995 when about 20 First Nations occupied a piece of ranch land near 100-Mile House [about 430 kilometres north-east of Vancouver] that they said was sacred and part of a larger tract of unceded territory.”

That article adds: “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.”

APTN has further explained: “The RCMP used an IED [improvised explosive device] against the warriors during the standoff and Bison armoured personnel carriers provided and driven by the Canadian Forces.”

Historian Gord Hill has documented: “The next day, an RCMP sniper opened fire on an unarmed defender walking in a previously agreed upon ‘no shooting’ zone, claiming the person was wearing camouflage fatigues and carrying a weapon. During the trial of the defenders, it was revealed that the person was in fact unarmed.”

The 31-day standoff ended on September 17, 1995.

The trial for the land defenders began on July 8, 1996 and the sentencing process for them on June 6, 1997.

Hill has noted: “During a year-long trial it was revealed that the RCMP had carried out a self-described ‘smear and disinformation’ campaign to discredit the defenders and justify the use of lethal force.”

William Jones “Wolverine” Ignace, who was 65 years old at the time, spent five years in prison following the standoff.

APTN has reported: “One of Wolverine’s last acts [before he passed away on March 22, 2016] was to issue a call [on January 4, 2016] for a public inquiry into the actions of the RCMP and Canadian military during the Gustafsen Lake standoff.”

That letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated: “An inquiry into the Ts’Peten standoff would [help ensure] that threats, intimidation, defamation and force are never again used against Indigenous people in Canada.”

On January 24, 2016, the Vancouver Sun reported: “Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says she will look into a call for an inquiry, but the issue is not a top priority.” She stated that the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls would need to come first. That inquiry was launched in September 2016 and issued its final report more than two years ago in June 2019. 

Last year, Secwepemc land defender Kanahus Manuel posted on Facebook: “I stand with Wolverine in his call for a federal inquiry into Gustafsen Lake Standoff!”

More than five years after Wolverine’s passing, and now twenty-six years after Gustafsen Lake, the inquiry still has not been held.

These stills from RCMP surveillance footage show a truck being driven by land defenders on a dirt road at Gustafsen Lake and the aftermath of the IED explosion.

For more, please see Gord Hill’s video Gustafsen Lake Standoff in five minutes. Please also see the APTN report: A warrior’s final interview: William “Wolverine” Ignace.

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