The Struggle for Original People’s Title

Attica to GLThe Autobiography of Dacajeweiah [Splitting the Sky] John Boncore Hill: From Attica to Gustafsen Lake — Unmasking the Secrets of the Psycho-sexual Energy and the Struggle for Original People’s Title
By Dacajeweiah (Splitting the Sky) aka John Boncore Hill with She Keeps the Door (Sandra Bruderer)
Paperback: 653 pages
(Published by John Pasquale Boncore, 2001)
IBSN: 0-9689365-0-4

Dacajeweiah (Splitting the Sky), or John Boncore Hill, is a Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) warrior who has experienced extraordinarily much in his lifetime of struggle for justice. He was a central figure in two of the major standoffs in the twentieth century. Therefore, it is not surprising that his autobiography, From Attica Lake to Gustafsen Lake — Unmasking the Secrets of the Psycho-sexual Energy and the Struggle for Original People’s Title, written with his wife Sandra (She Keeps The Door) Bruderer, is a hefty book at 653 pages.

Splitting the Sky takes readers colloquially through his amazing life events, making the book an easy and informative, but necessarily long, read. Throughout his autobiography, he exposes the racist and imperialist agenda of colonialist governments in Turtle Island (North America). As a bookend, he tells of the struggle for Indigenous dignity and rights by a group of Sundancers at Ts’peten, aka Gustafsen Lake, in British Columbia (BC) and the so-called justice meted out afterwards. An early eerie ordeal was Splitting the Sky’s incarceration in New York’s notorious Attica State Prison.

Splitting the Sky was the only person sentenced to do prison time following the hostage-taking of prison guards that precipitated the state’s lethal storming of Attica on 13 September 1971, on the order of then New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. State police officers were implicated in the killing of, at least, 39 people, including 10 hostages at Attica prison. Splitting the Sky related how outlawed CN-4 gas was dropped into the jail before troops burst in and “were systematically killing in a blood rage like a thirst that could not be quenched.” A commission led by New York law professor Robert McKay described the assault as the “bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans, except for the massacres against Indians of the 19th Century.” Rockefeller called his decision to retake the prison “a matter of principle.” Splitting the Sky considered that Rockefeller had “sanctioned the death of 43 human beings” that day.

The major focus of the book, however, is on Gustafsen Lake, a lightly populated wilderness area in south-central BC, near the town of 100 Mile House. In 1995, a group of Original Peoples gathered there to celebrate the Sundance ceremony, previously forbidden by Canadian authorities. Splitting the Sky was honored as the chief of the ceremony.

Trouble arose when some ranch hands of the purported land owner, Lyle James, rode in, disturbed the sacred ceremonial site, and made derogatory remarks about “red niggers.” This incited a confrontation and the so-called occupation of the Gustafsen Lake ranch.

James, who never adduced his claim to the ranchland, was vexed by the upstart natives; he held that his cattle ranching operation took precedence over indigenous cultural activities. Like Gustafsen Lake, the province of BC is, for the greatest part, unceded First Nations territory. The Ts’peten Defenders, as the camp occupants became known, maintained that the Lyle ranch is on unceded Canoe Creek First Nation land. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 decreed that “several Nations or Tribes of Indians … should not be molested or disturbed in the possession of … Territories … not ceded or purchased by Us.” Colonists were strictly forbidden “from making any Purchases or Settlements whatever” with the Indigenous Peoples because of “great Frauds and Abuses” inflicted on Original Peoples in the past. The Royal Proclamation was an attempt to convince Indigenous Peoples of “our Justice.” [italics added]

During the Gustafsen Lake trial, prominent Ts’peten Defender, Wolverine (William Jones Ignace), cited the Royal Proclamation in his defence. The BC Court of Appeal held: “The Royal Proclamation has never applied to this Province, the appellants cannot rely upon the Royal Proclamation as support for their position.” Contrarily, Patricia Margaret Hutchings in her law thesis argued that BC is within the geographic scope of the proclamation.

Ignoring the legal history, then New Democratic Party attorney general of BC, Ujjal Dosanjh, gave the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) sweeping powers to remove the Ts’peten Defenders from the land. In an overtly racist move, Indigenous police officers were exempted from participation in what was dubbed Operation Wallaby.

Canadian authorities rejected disinterested, independent, outside mediation to settle the dispute at Gustafsen Lake. Dosanjh railed against the possibility of outside observers: “There shall be no alien intervention into the affairs of this state.” Of course, once the matter was in the open, it would have been most difficult to quash the legal arguments of the Original Peoples.

Corporate and State Media Complicity

Operation Wallaby, as it was code named, launched a tightly controlled media disinformation campaign against the Ts’peten Defenders from the RCMP to high political officials. Then BC premier Mike Harcourt asserted deep knowledge into the sentiments of the indigenous community: “The people who are involved at Gustafsen Lake are not representative of the aboriginal people in the Cariboo [region of BC, which includes Gustafsen Lake].”

The RCMP manipulated the media; consequently, Ts’peten Defenders were demonized as “terrorists” and “criminals.”

Much of the media acted as a mouthpiece for government. A few braver types spoke out. Journalist William Johnson sensed an “ambush” story and wrote a skeptical commentary: “Perhaps it is the old newsman in me, but I’m uneasy over the reporting. Journalists have been kept away from the scene of the action by the RCMP and the native occupants could not tell their side of the story because the Mounties have cut off their means of communication.”

In what may well have been a life-saving move, Splitting the Sky was sent out from the camp to organize an information blitz on the Gustafsen Lake standoff. It helped raise an international outcry against a looming bloodbath.

RCMP: “Smear campaigns are our specialty”

Prior to the mobilization of the RCMP at Gustafsen Lake, the attorney for the Ts’peten Defenders, Dr. Bruce Clark, a legal expert on indigenous rights, informed the RCMP that action against the Defenders would be illegal according to international and constitutional law. On 8 August 1995, Clark wrote to RCMP staff sgt. Martin Sarich: “The domestic courts from the Supreme Court of Canada on down are just refusing to address the law because it finds them personally guilty of complicity in treason, fraud and genocide. Those courts have assumed a jurisdiction that clearly and plainly they do not lawfully enjoy, and have exercised the usurped jurisdiction to implement domestic laws which are in fact not laws but crimes.” In an ironic twist, Clark appealed to the RCMP “for protection against a legal establishment that in willful blindness has set its face against the rule of law.”

The Ts’peten Defenders sought to challenge their dispossession in a legal forum through the brilliant attorney Clark. Legally they were given the run-around. The Ts’peten Defenders’ case required submission to the queen in Great Britain. A British embassy official stated, however, that there would be no British response because First Nations are an internal Canadian government affair. The Ts’peten Defenders received the RCMP’s agreement to submit their request to the federal attorney general, but duplicitously the RCMP chief negotiator sgt. Dennis Ryan submitted the request to Dosanjh, who declared, “We shall not bargain in the course of the serious criminal investigation that is ongoing and we shall not approach the queen or anyone else.” Third party adjudication of the dispute was blocked.

Clark’s constitutional case was to be blocked from going anywhere. The RCMP was party to this. A RCMP management team video showed Ryan relating orders from supt. Len Olfert: “Kill this Clark and smear the prick and everyone with him.” Olfert’s dislike of Clark was palpable. Said he on another occasion: “Clark is a goddamned snake.”

But Clark was also a victim of the “the judiciary and psychiatric establishment [that] willfully conspired to declare a completely sane human being psychologically disturbed, and have them [sic] committed.”

Former US attorney general Ramsey Clark (no relation to Bruce Clark) was appalled and wrote scathingly to BC judge Nicholas Friesen: “The appearance of injustice in your conduct was atrocious. … Your own words expose both animus and imperious abuse of judicial power. … You give the appearance of an arrogant and hateful tyrant determined to humiliate Indians and destroy the professional and personal reputation of their lawyer.”

Splitting the Sky wrote, “Notice how the press is utilized to reinforce the systematic disposal of extremely intelligent and genuinely concerned lawyers acting upon client instructions. …When the law obstructs the interests of the corporate elite and politicians … they conspire to bend the rule of law, to legitimize the theft of Indian land and resources.”

In the video Above the Law II, Ryan is heard asking: “Is there anyone who can help us with our smear and disinformation campaign?”

Sgt. Peter Montague, chief media relations officer for BC foolishly boasted, “Smear campaigns are our specialty.” Later he claimed this was “said in jest.”

These detestable comments were among those not censored. One-and-a-half hours of 50 hours of recording on the RCMP training tape was never released.

At trial, Montague admitted, “Information was released to the public that was not correct.” He further testified that “media will develop a story if we don’t give one to them. It was important to ensure that the public perceived a continued threat from people in the camp.”

Defense lawyer George Wool pressed Montague: “You were conditioning the Canadian public — including perspective jurors — that the people at Gustafsen lake were terrorists.”

“That was the way it started off. That was the message, yes,” agreed Montague.

Splitting the Sky concluded, “It was a concerted effort to manufacture a smear and disinformation campaign. This would assist in gaining the publics [sic] consent, to justify an all out kill. … This is fascism in Canada.”

In July 2004, the participants at the Halifax Symposium on Media and Disinformation unanimously found disinformation to be a “crime against humanity and a crime against peace.”

Murder as Military Tactic

The exorbitant Operation Wallaby saw the state mobilize up to 400 police, active Canadian military involvement with the “elite” black-ops JTF2 (the troops deployed to Afghanistan who handed prisoners directly over to the Americans) rumored on site, armored personnel carriers, airplanes, helicopters, M16 and C7 assault rifles, and the firing of 77,000 rounds of ammunition at 18 people holed up inside a camp. Miraculously no one was killed.

In a September 1995 standoff to recuperate the theft of Stony Point First Nation territory at Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario, an Ontario Provincial Police officer shot and killed Stoney Point activist Dudley George.

Tapes obtained through an access to information request by the CBC’s The Fifth Estate recorded a conversation among RCMP officers — first broadcast in 2004 — that exposes a blatant racism:

“Is there still a lot of press down there?” one officer says.
“No, there’s no one down there. Just a great big fat fuck Indian,” replies another.
“The camera’s rolling, eh?”
“We had this plan, you know. We thought if we could get five or six cases of Labatt’s 50 [beer], we could bait them.”
“Then we’d have this big net at a pit.”
“Creative thinking.”
“Works in the (U.S.) South with watermelon.”

In 2007, the Canadian military establishment in a draft counter-insurgency manual had identified targeted Original Peoples as a potential threat.

That no Ts’peten Defenders were killed at Gustafsen Lake was not because of RCMP restraint. An RCMP communication from 20 August 1995 stated, “The CO commented and I agree that we need to clean them out entirely.” Splitting the Sky interpreted this as intent to “murder.”

In one instance, on 11 September 1995, RCMP observed an unarmed native male across the lake. Inspector Roger Kembel authorized use of a sniper rifle with laser-range finder against the “target of opportunity” in an agreed-to no-shoot zone.

Canada, which touts itself as a world leader in fighting the scourge of landmines, was hypocritically caught deploying landmines at Gustafsen Lake. A red truck with Ts’peten Defenders inside was blown up. In the authorities’ doublespeak this landmine was referred to as an early warning device. The vehicle’s (apparently unarmed) occupants were fired upon and their dog killed.

Eventually, the Ts’peten Defenders agreed to leave the camp only to be all arrested and charged with attempted murder and life-endangering mischief.

Justice Denied

Through intimidation and selective deal-making with defendants, the government sought to isolate so-considered hardliners among the Ts’peten Defenders and deny them access to their controversial attorney Clark, a violation of an internationally recognized legal right.

Splitting the Sky concluded, “The crown was willing to throw the case as long as it appeared they had the right to try the Indian defendants in their domestic courts.”

Clark argued, “It is a fact that while judge-made law can be constitutive of a previously unaddressed principle of natural law, international law and constitutional law, judge-made law can not without negating the rule of law supersede previously constituted natural law, international law and constitutional law.”

The hereditary rights of the Original Peoples pre-date the Canadian confederation; therefore, by what right law established by European colonialists — in this case, Canadian government law — can usurp indigenous law and rights is legally questionable.

Clark realized though: “Because we are a racist society, because racism is a reality, you will get the racist position.”

BC judge Bruce Josephson refused the “Colour of Right” defense (if you believe you were in the right then you cannot be found guilty) and self-defense arguments of the accused for consideration by the jury. In fact, the judge went so far as to threaten jury members that if any of them made a statement prejudicial to the court then that member could face contempt of court charges.

The Ts’peten Defenders were forced to endure what has been called the longest criminal trial in Canadian history. After over a year of astonishing testimony by police, 13 of the 18 Ts’peten Defenders received jail sentences. Three of the Defenders appealed the verdicts on the grounds that settler courts have no jurisdiction on First Nation land. Wolverine was acquitted of non-capital murder, but he was found guilty of mischief endangering life, weapons possession, discharging a firearm to resist arrest, and using a firearm in the commission of an indictable offense. His son Joseph Ignace sadly wound up a “permanent resident of an insane asylum.”

Ramsey Clark urged immediate release of the defendants and an accommodation based on mutual respect.


Any review would be remiss if it ignored Splitting the Sky’s primary inspiration for writing his autobiography. While in prison he chanced upon the Kundalini: psycho-sexual powers that, Splitting the Sky explained, lie within all of us. The powers of the Kundalini run up the vertebral column passing through sensitive nerve centers to the neocortex.

The importance of the Kundalini is such that Splitting the Sky believes it to be crucial in the prevention of future annihilation through war.

Requisite Reading

Splitting the Sky’s autobiography is a no-holds barred account. The high points and low points, the shameful episodes and prideful accounts are presented: from spitting in the face of a despised lawyer to his stated desire to receive an honorary law degree and Nobel Peace Prize.

The book is extremely well documented, making it an indispensable reference source for anyone curious as to what really happened at Gustafsen Lake or wishing an insider perspective of the Attica uprising.


For further reading: Ts’peten Archives.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Lloyd Rowsey said on April 8th, 2008 at 5:34am #

    Thanks for this, Kim. It deserves a place at Gourevitch’s Paris Review.

  2. hp said on April 8th, 2008 at 8:36am #

    The ‘chanced upon’ Kundalini is a nice touch.

  3. Hue Longer said on April 8th, 2008 at 6:50pm #

    The US is so blatantly racist and war mongering that Canadians get peaceful, worldly reputations. It’s strange hearing a Canadian racist reference southern US racism for his trap fantasy.

  4. Lloyd Rowsey said on April 12th, 2008 at 6:30am #

    Good morning, Hue. I hate to change the subject, even after the particle-in-question has been buried on the second-page, but what pray tell is a “trap fantasy”?

  5. Neil Tall-Eagle said on April 13th, 2008 at 12:36am #

    Guess that I’m not up to poring through 650 pages of stuff that most of our people have become aware of by countless deadends and endless disappointments… and besides, the trend today is not about continued fruitless activism but rather toward the more constructive challenges facing us such as the rescue of our language, traditions and arts….

  6. Lloyd Rowsey said on April 16th, 2008 at 7:54am #

    Thanx, Neil, for your perspective.

    And Hi, Kim! Are you DV editor-cat going to reply to my three-book-review submissions this week, or any time this month?

  7. Lloyd Rowsey said on April 16th, 2008 at 7:57am #

    Thanx, Neil, for that perspective.

    And, HI! KIM! Are you DV editor-cats going to reply to my three-book-review submission any time this week? Or even this month? Just trying to allocate my writing-time efficiently…. You know?