by John Steinbach
“... when I came to, it was almost like my spirit had went outside my body and I could see the murders being committed and, at the same time, I could see everything happening— the killing and the screaming and the horror and the horrific screaming that was going on. And then, all of a sudden, I came back into my body and this guard came up and put a gun to me and said, ‘Crawl nigger crawl.’ They called everybody a nigger that day.”
(Dacajeweiah “Splitting the Sky” John Hill, describing the atrocities perpetrated at Attica from an interview in The Radical, September 27, 2000.)
When the history of the late 20th Century peoples' movement for Justice and Peace is written, the figure of Dacajeweiah “Splitting the Sky” John Hill will stand tall. This extraordinary freedom fighter exemplifies the spirit and character unique to those exciting times. From a background of orphanages and boarding schools, Dacajeweiah emerged as a principal leader of the Attica rebellion at the age of nineteen, and later became a major figure with the American Indian Movement. With the publication of his long anticipated memoir, “Autobiography of Splitting the Sky Along With his Wife Sandra Bruderer: From Attica to Gustafsen Lake; Unmasking the Secrets of the Psycho-Sexual Energy and the Struggle for Original Peoples Title,” Dacajeweiah reveals the definitive inside account of the Attica uprising and its horrendous aftermath, takes us behind the scene at Gustafsen Lake, Canada’s own Wounded Knee, and provides us with invaluable insight into the late 20th Century struggles for peace and justice and Native American self-determination.
Dacajeweiah (Dac to his many friends) is an inspiration to his fellow activists worldwide. I first met Dac in 1984, shortly after he had organized a delegation of over 400 Indian Chiefs and spiritual leaders to accompany the Hopi Elders to the United Nations to condemn nuclear weapons. At that time, we were working together to oppose the July 6, 1986 final deadline for the forced relocation of 14,000 traditional Dineh (Navaho) shepherds from their ancestral homelands in the Big Mountain region to pave the way for coal mining. Dac had organized a delegation of traditional Dineh and Hopi to testify in Washington, DC. My wife, Louise Franklin-Ramirez, and I arranged for their appearance on WHUR-TV’s Evening Exchange, an award winning Howard University Public Affairs program hosted by Kojo Nnamdi. Dac arrived in the studio with Roberta Blackgoat, a principal leader of the Dineh resistance, her lawyer, Lew Guruwitz, and Earl Pela, a Hopi Elder. On the other side of the table was Ross Swimmer, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Dacajeweiah and Lew proceeded to accuse Swimmer and the U.S. Government of perpetrating genocide, while Roberta and Earl told their simple yet powerful tale of spiritual and cultural destruction. Dac was masterful and the BIA was utterly humiliated, while caller after caller denounced the genocide.
With the publication of “From Attica to Gustafsen Lake,” Dacajeweiah is telling his own story, ranging from his central role in the rebellions at Attica, Genienkeh, Oka and Gustafsen Lake, to delineating his numerous political organizing triumphs. The July 6,1986 rally to stop genocide at Big Mountain and the October 12, 1992 protest at the United Nations on the 500th anniversary of the Columbus invasion of Turtle Island, organized principally by Dacajeweiah John Hill, remain to this day the largest protests for Indian self-determination ever held in the United States. When they make the movie about Dacajeweiah’s life story, anything less than a “Roots”-like twelve-part mini-series would fall short of the mark.
Childhood and Youth
When Dac was just seven, living in Buffalo, NY, his father, Savario Boncore, a painter for U.S. Rubber, was forced along with ten co-workers to enter and spray paint, without respirators or other protections, a large storage tank. All eleven men perished, leaving Dac and his three sisters fatherless, and his mother destitute. Dac and his sisters were forcibly removed from their mother’s care, and institutionalized in orphanages, group homes and foster homes. According to Dac, he refused to submit to this oppressive and degrading environment, and soon was branded “incorrigible” by the authorities.
At the age of seventeen and freshly freed from reform school, Dac found himself homeless and sleeping on the street with the cruel Buffalo winter fast approaching. Desperate with cold and hunger, he was forced to rob a store. Of course, he was quickly apprehended by the storeowners who fed him a sandwich while waiting for the police. Despite it having been his first felony conviction, Dac was sentenced to four years in prison for attempted robbery.
Two hard years at Elmira State Reformatory made Dac determined to resist the brutal, racist New York prison system. It was at Elmira that Dac first became acquainted with activists in the Anti-War, Native American, Black Liberation and Puerto Rican Independence Movements, and began to develop the political consciousness that was to inform his activism over the next thirty years. Dac recalls, “We began to realize that we were victims of a system that didn’t meet our needs and so we started entertaining a lot of ideas about revolutionary resistance in order to overthrow this ruthless system.” At nineteen, just months from his scheduled parole and in order to be released nearer to his home, Dac made the fateful decision to request transfer to the notorious U.S. Gulag called Attica Prison.
Attica was notorious even within the brutal, degrading system of state prisons of the 1970’s. The prison itself was grotesquely overcrowded, and prisoners were forced to subsist on a mere 62 cents per day. Despite the fact that a large majority of prisoners were people of color, the prison staff was entirely white and often openly racist. It was reported that the warden himself was an active leader in the local Ku Klux Klan. Assaults and murders of prisoners were a common occurrence. Although Dac was just 19 when he entered Attica, the two years at Elmira hardened him, and left him determined not to be intimidated. Little did he know that just 17 days later, Attica would become a literal Hell on Earth.
George Jackson was a hero to many revolutionaries, including Dacajeweiah. A prisoner at San Quentin in California, Jackoson had written two important radical books, and was considered a major spokesperson for Black Liberation and prisoners’ rights. When George Jackson was set up and assassinated by the authorities at San Quentin, the shock waves spread throughout the U.S. prison system. At Attica, the 1,200 inmates went on a solidarity hunger strike that both infuriated and frightened the guards.
The following day, in an attempt to create dissension among the prisoners, the guards tried to provoke a race riot by pitting a black against a white prisoner. When the white prisoner protested in defense of his black brother, both were ordered into the hole. The stage was set for rebellion.
Dac recalls walking down the hall with Sam Melville, a leader of the Weather Underground, when they encountered the guard captain. Sam and a Black leader confronted the captain about why the others were locked up. When the captain made excuses, he was knocked down, and Dac bellowed, “Let’s take the place! This is it! Let’s riot!” Suddenly, all 1,200 men started rioting and shortly controlled the prison. One of the guards, William Quinn, was accidentally injured during initial insurrection and died several days later. His unfortunate death was later to play an important part in Dac’s story.
The rebellion lasted five days, and from the beginning, the 1,200 inmates organized themselves into committees and showed the world the true face of democracy. According to Dac, “For the very first time, people around the world were starting to finally hear about what was really going on within America’s penal system.” The 50 prison guard hostages were dressed in prisoners’ garb and used in negotiations. The State agreed to 28 demands, but refused the most critical and non-negotiable one— blanket amnesty for all involved. There was a standoff and although negotiations were ongoing and all the hostages unharmed, Governor Nelson Rockefeller gave the word to storm Attica.
When the decision came down, over 1,000 heavily armed state troopers were diverted from an impending attack on Mohawk Indians on Onandaga Territory, who were attempting to block an extension of Highway 81 through sacred Indian land. (Some Mohawk warriors later reported to Dacajeweiah that during the Attica massacre, the drums hanging on the Longhouse wall started drumming an Honor Song with no one playing them). It had been raining that day, and Dac describes waves of red rain-coated state police coming in from above, as a helicopter hovered over the courtyard demanding that the hostages be released.
Suddenly, the helicopter released several CN4 poison gas canisters, outlawed by the Geneva Convention, and, simultaneously, the attacking police opened fire. The police fired as many as 15,000 rounds of live ammunition that day. When the smoke cleared, forty-three people lay dead, 11 guards and 32 prisoners, with over eighty wounded. Dac describes prisoners begging for their lives as they were shot in cold blood. He talks about prisoners being forced into latrine trenches filled with urine and feces, being marked with an X and then shot in the back. Dac himself was grazed by three bullets and would have been killed except for a gun misfire. When all is said and done, Attica was a criminal massacre, and yet Dacajeweiah was the only person ever convicted and punished.
A year and a half after Attica, Dacajeweiah was convicted of the murder of the guard Quinn, and given a sentence of 20 years to life. (He would have received the death penalty except for the fact that the Supreme Court had just declared capital punishment illegal.) While out on bond prior to his conviction, Dac became involved in the organized movement for the first time. He traveled to Genienkeh, a Mohawk survival camp, where he became a member of the Mohawk Warrior Society. In his book, Dac tells a story about how the Mohawk Warriors, dressed in white sheets for snow camouflage, got the drop on several hundred state troopers, and forced them to withdraw. It was at Genienkeh that Dac met his first wife Alicia, the mother of his sons John and Nicosa. Ultimately, Dacajeweiah spent five long years in prison for the murder of Quinn.
In all, 61 men were indicted for the Attica uprising. Rockefeller became Vice President of the U.S., and Hugh Carey became Governor of New York. As time passed, it became more and more difficult to ignore the atrocities committed at Attica, and the political heat became unbearable. Nelson Rockefeller was facing confirmation hearings for Vice-President, but the Attica massacre stood as a major blemish on his political record. Rockefeller would order Anthony B. Simonetti, head of the New York Bureau of Criminal Investigation, to cover up the murders by state police at Attica, then under investigation by a second Grand Jury. One of the massacre investigators, Malcolm Bell, who later wrote the best-selling Attica expose “Turkey Shoot,” refused to be a part of this blatant jury tampering and ultimately blew the whistle to The New York Times. The Times sat on Bell’s article for a full two months, until after Dacajeweiah’s conviction. When the story finally broke, it created a major scandal. In an effort to put a lid on this embarrassing and politically devastating fiasco, Governor Hugh Carey ordered that all charges rising out of Attica, including probable charges against the police, be dropped. Dacajeweiah was the only one left imprisoned.
Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark replaced William Kunstler as Dacajeweiah’s attorney and approached Carey, pointing out the injustice of Dac’s continued incarceration. Carey ordered Dac’s release, but not before the prison authorities and state police made several attempts on his life. Dac describes several assassination attempts, including being driven to a parole hearing by detectives over back roads at speeds of over 100 mph while pursuing cops peppered them with bullets. When Dac appeared before the Parole Board, the Board overruled a Governor’s clemency decision— for the first time in New York history— and ordered him held for two more years. Sixteen prisons later, including a stint at Sing Sing prison, and after a brief re-incarceration for an alleged parole violation, Dac was finally freed for good in 1979.
Early Organizing Years
In 1980, Dac attended the Black Hills Alliance Survival Gathering co-sponsored by the Mobilization for Survival (the main national anti-nuclear group) and the American Indian Movement, which was first organized to oppose uranium mining in the Black Hills. It was here that Dacajeweiah met representatives of the Hopi spiritual leaders, the Kikmongwi. The Hopi Prophesy tells of a “Gourd of Ashes” from the sky that will threaten humanity. When they heard about the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the Hopi Kikmongwi declared in late 1945 that nuclear weapons were the prophesied Gourd of Ashes, and called for their immediate abolition. Another part of the Prophesy called on the Hopi to travel to the United Nations to address the world. Dac agreed to help Grandfather David, a Hopi spiritual leader, to organize the event.
In the fall of 1982, over 400 Indian Chiefs and spiritual leaders accompanied the Kikmongwi into the United Nations Great Assembly Hall, followed by more than 2,000 others. The assembly heard the Hopi renew their call for nuclear abolition, and for a radical change in human consciousness. The Hopi “Message of Warning to the World” was one of the early important anti-nuclear protests confronting Ronald Reagan’s apocalyptic nuclear policies. Dacajeweiah was the main organizer of this seminal gathering, and his reputation as a serious organizer became firmly established.
After being released, Dacajeweiah had moved to the Washington, DC area, and developed a friendship with the Tayac family. Billy Redwing Tayac, Chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation of southern Maryland and a longtime AIM member and activist, was respected widely for his leadership and wisdom. The Piscataway Nation’s Tayac Territory was and still is a haven for Indian People and Indigenous People world-wide, and seasonal ceremonies at their sacred burial grounds, Moyone, are attended by hundreds, Indian and non-Indian alike. In 1982, Dac and Mark Tayac traveled to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota to dance in the Lakota Sundance run by Chief Bill Eaglefeather. The following year, Frank Fools Crow, while visiting Tayac Territory, asked Chief Tayac to establish the Eastern Sundance. Dacajeweiah was one of seven original Piscataway sundancers, and danced three years under Chief Fools Crow’s direction.
During the early 1980s, Dac became active helping the Piscataway’s in their own land rights struggles and was a fixture in local progressive politics. In 1984, Roberta Blackgoat, one of the leaders of the “Big Mountain” Dineh (Navajo) resistance, and Duncan Murphy, a legendary human rights activist working out of Big Mountain, asked Dac, Billy and Louise Franklin-Ramirez, a non-Indian activist elder, to establish the Big Mountain Support Group of Metropolitan Washington (BMSGMW).
The Dineh Elders of the Black Mesa area of the “Four Corners” region had been fighting against forced relocation since 1984 when a new law PL 93-531, sponsored by Barry Goldwater, ordered 14,000 traditional Navajo (Dineh) Indians living in the newly defined Hopi Partition Land (HPL) to be removed from their ancestral lands. The process had been proceeding with grim efficiency for over ten years when Dac was approached to help. With Louise & Billy’s help, a group of several dozen core activists under Dac’s direction formed the Big Mountain Support Group of Metropolitan Washington (BMSGMW).
The BMSGMW began an extensive public education campaign and hosted several delegations of Dineh and Hopi Elders, and experts on international and indigenous law. In the process, Dac became good friends with Dineh activists like Roberta Blackgoat and her son Danny, Larry Anderson and Katherine Smith, and Hopi Elders like Will Mace and Earl Pela. It was Dac’s idea, fully supported by the BMSGMW and the Piscataways, to organize a national rally to coincide with the so-called “final deadline,” July 6, 1986. Despite some initial reservations by the National BMSG, the deadline protest was organized and became a big success. The national and international media covered the rally extensively and over 5,000 gathered at the Sylvan Theater on the National Mall, at that time the largest protest in U.S. history in support of Indian rights.
Following the Big Mountain rally, Dac continued organizing with the BMSGMW on a variety of issues. The group changed its name to the American Indian Support Committee (AISC), and organized dozens of demonstrations during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Issues ranged from Leonard Peltier (AISC organized a Free Peltier rally in subfreezing temperatures, attracting over 500 people), to Wisconsin Objibway hunting and fishing treaty rights (a group of over 100 people stormed the national convention of the National Association of Counties led by Dac and Billy Tayac, with an Objibway delegation and the Piscataway Ceremonial Drum, with the convention ultimately rejecting an anti-Indian resolution drafted by the Wisconsin Association of Counties). The AISC hosted delegations of Indian Nations from the Arctic to South America seeking redress of grievances.
League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations of the Western Hemisphere
In 1989, Chief Tayac of the Piscataway Nation organized a conference on Tayac Territory called “Beyond the Pow Wow,” which brought together over 200 Indian activists and supporters from across North and South America. The focus of the gathering was how to counter the mass commercialization of Indian culture, and to redirect energy and resources to self-determination. Dacajeweiah was an important voice for Indian sovereignty, and during the conference, he reached some radical conclusions about the future of Native American activism.
Dac’s vision was the establishment of a Pan-American Indian organization comprised of Indian Nations from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle, and dedicated to Native American sovereignty. The League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations of the Western Hemisphere (LISN) was born in the Tayac Family’s basement. While many in the AISC and the broader Indian community humored Dac’s “pipe dream,” Dac, with the help of the Chief’s wife, Shirley Tayac, was hard at work drafting the basic vision and principles for LISN, based largely on the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy. Dac, along with Chief Tayac, traveled to the Kanawake Mohawk Reserve in Quebec, Canada to seek the counsel of Louis Hall, War Chief of the Mohawk Nation. Chief Hall was immediately enthusiastic about LISN, and became a strong supporter the rest of his life.
Dac returned to Washington, DC, and immediately started organizing the founding LISN conference in 1990. The conference was a huge success, representing dozens of Indian Nations and establishing a program and principles. AISC and other non-Indians, including a delegation from the Canada Alliance in Support of Native Peoples (CASNP), were organized as “LISN Allies.” Throughout the 1990’s, the first conference on Piscataway Land was followed by five other Conferences in the U.S. and Canada. The concept of Native American sovereignty represented a radical and empowering change in consciousness for many in the Indian Movement. Fundamental to LISN principles was the idea that nations that have perpetrated genocide against Indian People have no moral or ethical right to determine their destiny, or represent them in The United Nations— Indian People should have their own sovereignty and voting seat at the UN. According to many activists, LISN was and remains Dacajeweiah’s single greatest political achievement. (Dac himself says that his raising of the Kundalini while incarcerated at Sing is his greatest accomplishment, but the reader must read his book and decide for himself or herself.)
In 1991, the village of Oka near Montreal decided to expand their municipal golf course over the sacred burial grounds of the Kanasatake Mohawk Nation. The Mohawk Warrior Society organized an armed blockade and forced a standoff with the Canadian authorities. Under Dac, the AISC organized weekly protests at the Canadian Embassy. He and Chief Tayac traveled to Canada to express support for a solidarity blockade mounted by the Kanawake Mohawk Warriors that completely shut down the Mercier Bridge, the major commuter bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River. After attempting to reach the front lines at Oka, Dac and Billy returned to Washington and continued to organize protests and delegations to the Canadian embassy. The village of Oka finally backed down, and the blockades were over. After the longest and most expensive trial in Canadian history, it took a non-native jury less than a day to find all defendants not guilty!
By this time, Dac was a widely respected organizer, not just within the Native American Community, but also throughout the progressive movement. He was much in demand to speak against globalization, nuclear weapons and power, environmental destruction, and racism, anti-Semitism and sexism. He was the new father of a beautiful daughter Ora, and paying the bills by working as a skilled carpenter (Dac built our wonderful house in Manassas, VA and named it “Earth Lodge” in honor of his Mohawk heritage). Between providing for his family and organizing LISN, Dac’s “platter was full,” but he refused to slow down. October 12, 1992, the 500th Anniversary of Columbus’ invasion of the western hemisphere was fast approaching and Dacajeweiah was determined to take action.
Dac approached the AISC and LISN with a proposal for a massive protest at the United Nations on October 12, 1992 to protest the Columbus celebrations, tell the truth about 500 years of genocide, and call for Native American Sovereignty. Scores of activists, Indian and non-Indian worked together to bring over 10,000 to the United Nations. Buses came from New England and Washington, DC, and activists converged in New York from around the world. To this day, the New York Columbus Day demonstration in 1992 is the largest protest in support of Native American self-determination ever held in North America.
In early 1993, Dacajeweiah was invited to a conference in Edmonton, Alberta to speak about Native American Sovereignty. It was there that he met Sandra Bruderer (She Keeps the Door), a beautiful and intelligent Cree woman, and fell in love. Dac moved from the D.C. area to Saskatchewan, and later to Hinton, Alberta where he and Sandra began their family. It was in Hinton that Dac became acquainted with William “Jonesy” Ignace, later to become known as Wolverine.
Dac had been a member of the Sundance Society in New York and was an experienced Sundancer. In 1994, after moving to Hinton, Dac traveled to 100 Mile House in British Columbia to participate in the Shuswap Sundance at Gustafsen Lake. Because of his extensive Sundance experience, Dacajeweiah was asked by John Stevens, Nakota/Dakota Sioux medicine man, to become Sundance Chief in 1995. It was only after Chief Stevens said that the Ancestral Spirits had directed him in ceremony to pass Splitting the Sky the Sacred Pipe, or Chunupa, that Dacajeweiah cautiously agreed to serve as Shuswap Sundance Chief.
The Shuswap Sundance had been held for years at Gustafsen Lake without serious incident, but an explosion of violence was impending. When Dacajeweiah arrived in 100 Mile House, he was amazed at the level of racism directed against Native Americans. According to Dac, “Native people kind of walked around with their heads down, afraid to deal with locals... People were being killed but nobody was saying anything about it... it reminded me of places like the deep South in the U.S. But here the identical thing appeared to be happening in the deep North.” Despite the virulent racism of rural British Columbia, Dacajeweiah gathered the local Sundance society, and working together, prepared for the ceremony.
Gustafsen Lake is situated on un-ceded aboriginal land near 100 Mile House. To this day, British Columbia has never addressed Native American land claims, and most of the Province is comprised of un-ceded, disputed Aboriginal land. The land around Gustafsen Lake is ranched by Lyle James. When Dacajeweiah began preparing the land, he found broken fences that allowed cows into the sacred Sundance grounds. The Sundance Society proceeded to repair the fences. Apparently these fence repairs were too much for Lyle James, who, instigated by the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RCMP), sent his thugs to the Sundance Grounds with guns and bullwhips, threatening to lynch “red niggers” and desecrating the sacred Eagle Staff. When Dac learned of the threats (he had temporarily returned to Hinton), he sent Wolverine up to the grounds with other Sundance society members, and authorized them to take steps for armed self-defense. This marked the beginning of months of terror.
The Sundance ceremony in 1995 took place under a literal state of siege. Following the ceremony, approximately fifteen Sundance society members remained on site to prevent further desecration of sacred land. For the next two-and-a-half months, the Sundance defenders were repeatedly under attack by local vigilantes, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Military.
With the cooperation of the local Native constables, it appeared that the situation would be peaceably resolved, and a date was set for final negotiations. Leaving a small security force at the ceremonial grounds, Dacajeweiah and Wolverine temporarily returned home to take care of family business. Several days before the final negotiations were to take place, an emergency call came in to Dac that the Sundance grounds were under intensive gunfire from men dressed in military fatigues. Dac took immediate action, calling his old lawyers Ramsey Clark and Bill Kunstler, and alerting Native American and Human Rights activists worldwide. The 100 Mile House RCMP was besieged with hundreds of phone calls from around the world. The official response was that everything was under control, but in reality, it was their own RCMP Emergency Response Team (ERT) that was responsible for the attack.
Canada’s Own Wounded Knee
The RCMP had suddenly removed the Native constables from the scene, telling them that a decision had been made to atttack. Later, court documents indicated that the “shoot to kill” targets were Dacajeweiah “Splitting the Sky” and Wolverine. The joint RCMP/military attack was code named Operation Iron Horse/Operation Wallabie, and had been designed to kill Dac, Wolverine and six other “hard-liners.” Fortunately, Dac and Wolverine were still “outside” and coordinating the resistance. Wolverine took a contingent of warriors back inside police lines, while Dac remained in Hinton coordinating an international campaign.
The siege continued while the RCMP pressured the Canadian army for Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) and armaments. The army was reluctant to get involved and initially refused the request. However, the RCMP fabricated several “attacks” on police forces, and the army finally allocated 8 APCs for the first of three planned final “kills” on August 25, September 11, and September 28, 1995.
Dac understood that a bloodbath was imminent better than anyone- a bloodbath involving mainly children, elders and women- and that desperate measures were needed. In a brilliant stroke of genius, Dac enlisted the help of a progressive journalist, Trond Halle, to contact the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Earlier that summer, Dac had arranged for the videotaping of the Shuswap warriors dressed in camouflage and wielding hunting rifles, practicing self-defense maneuvers. Dac correctly surmised that with the Oka/Mercier Bridge standoff still relatively fresh in the public mind, the video would attract the mass media. The strategy worked beyond his wildest expectations when the CBC National Nightly News led with the video. Suddenly, there were 100 media outlets converging on 100 Mile House and Gustafsen Lake, and literally, “the whole world was watching.” The RCMP and military temporarily were forced to call off the attack.
The standoff continued through September, and the RCMP waged a low-level war and propaganda campaign, misleading and using the media to demonize the Sundancers, especially Dacajeweiah “Splitting the Sky” and Wolverine. The Canadian government deployed hundreds of troops and police, 8 APCs, and fired over 70,000 rounds of ammunition against 20 Indians and supporters, mostly women and children, armed only with hunting rifles. They used land mines to blow up a camp pickup truck, nearly killing two unarmed camp members, and using long-range snipers, attempted to assassinate a white supporter bathing in Gustafsen Lake. The primary government force used at Gustafsen Lake was Joint Task Force Two, a commando unit trained in assassination and used in Yugoslavia for “counter-terrorism.” Gustafsen Lake was Canada’s own “Wounded Knee,” where for only the third time in modern Canadian history the army was used against Canadian civilians.
Peter Montague, the RCMP spokesperson engaged in a calculated campaign of deception and slander, branded Dacajeweiah as a cop killer and the Sundancers as hard-line extremists. He fooled the CBC into using the public airwaves to communicate false RCMP propaganda to the Gustafsen Lake encampment. He was responsible for disseminating false statements about attacks on police that never took place. One false statement was to the Director of CBC Radio, Jeffery Dvorkin, stating that the reason for hijacking the CBC airwaves was because the Sundancers were holding hostages. This was a bald-faced lie that infuriated Mr. Dvorkin, who subsequently became the Vice-President of National Public Radio in the United States. The purpose of all this propaganda was to enable the RCMP to deploy the Joint Task-Force Two to attack the Sundancers with impunity on September 18.
The Canadian government issued an ultimatum to the Sundancers to surrender by September 18, or face a final attack. Dacajeweiah realized that in order to finally prevent a Waco-type disaster, an arrangement must be negotiated without acknowledging a surrender in unceded Original People’s lands. He personally arranged for a reluctant Chief John Stevens to enter Gustafsen Lake and bring everyone out alive.
The Trial and RCMP Disinformation Campaign
The Gustafsen Lake Sundance trial was an absolute farce. The RCMP and the Canadian government were desperately afraid that the issue of B.C. land rights would become the primary issue, and went to extremes to keep this issue out of the court. According to Dacajeweiah, “...most of British Columbia is still unceded (Aboriginal) land and there are no treaties signed. This is a major concern to the transnational corporations and government interests who have a big stake in the region’s natural resources. Imperial, International, Constitutional and Original Peoples laws all validate our sovereignty, so we stood uncompromisingly on the rule of law. People have been executed for a lot less than that and so we basically became government targets.”
Bruce Clark, a noted expert on Aboriginal Law, was the primary lawyer for the Gustafsen Lake Defenders. He carried out an exemplary defense based on the undisputed fact that Gustafsen Lake was unceded Native land, and thus the Sundancers had every right to be there. Not only did Judge Bruce Josephson refuse to allow this defense, but a colleague, Judge Frieson, systematically slandered Dr. Clark, culminating in accusations of his mental instability and an order committing him to a mental institution. Subsequently, Bruce Clark was disbarred for his defense of the Shuswap Sundancers, and was forced to seek political asylum in Denmark.
The judge continually ruled against the defendants and prohibited them from cross-examining government witnesses about Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, which enshrines Aboriginal rights protections, including those relative to the Royal Proclamation of 1763. But Dac had an ace up his sleeve. The RCMP had hired a photographer, Norm Torp, to videotape the operational planning meetings for Operation Iron Horse. An inside informer alerted the defense to the existence of fifty hours of tapes, which were successfully subpoenaed. Although the Judge prohibited the jury from seeing all but a few minutes of the tapes, Dac wasn’t quite yet finished.
Although the tapes had been scrambled to prevent duplication, Dac’s courageous wife, Sandra Bruderer, succeeded in de-scrambling them. The tapes were then broadcast on Cable TV. The tapes showed the RCMP scheming and lying, and also bragging about fabricating evidence. They showed footage of the red camp truck being blown up and the assassination attempt on the two occupants swimming for their lives across the lake. They also clearly showed two RCMP/JTF snipers attempting to murder the non-Indian supporter bathing in the lake. The tapes also showed plans for the RCMP disinformation campaign. Subsequently, the de-scrambled tapes were made into the video documentary “Above the Law Part 1 and Part 2.”
Judge Josephson originally allowed the Color of Rights defense which simply states that if you believe you have the constitutional right act in a certain way, then you cannot be convicted of the charges growing out of such an action. Dr. Clark then proceeded to give key testimony at the trial (while at the time a prisoner himself) that apparently convinced the jury that Canadian courts have no jurisdiction, and they were ready to vote not guilty. Josephson, fearing a legal precedent of unfathomable ramifications, reversed himself and systematically threw out 1,300 pages of Dr. Clark’s testimony by disallowing the Color of Law argument at the eleventh hour, just as the jury was about to commence deliberations.
Despite having been effectively prevented from putting on a defense, the trial ended with most of the 18 defendants being convicted of only relatively minor misdemeanors and released. But Wolverine and James Pitawanakwat, known to his friends as O.J., were convicted on more serious felonies and sentenced to eight and three years in prison, respectively. Dacajeweiah “Splitting the Sky” and his friends in B.C. mounted an intensive public relations campaign to free Wolverine and O.J., which made it impossible for the B.C. Government to hold them. O.J. was released after one year and Wolverine after two.
Upon his release, O.J. proceeded to flee Canada to Oregon, where he was subsequently arrested and held. The Canadian government, expecting a routine case, requested his extradition for parole violation, but again they underestimated Dacajeweiah, who remained a painful thorn in their side. O.J. made an emergency call to Dac informing him that in all likelihood, Judge Janice Stewart in Portland would order his extradition the following morning unless dramatic steps were taken. Dac immediately called filmmaker (and co-producer with Dac of “Above the Law”) Mervyn Brown, who was in Oregon at the time, and asked him to deliver a copy of the film to the Judge. Brown arrived in court just before closing and placed a copy of the film in the Clerk’s hands. The Judge viewed the film and immediately ordered an injunction halting O.J.’s extradition, setting a date for a full hearing.
Dacajeweiah and Law professor Tony Hall coordinated the defense strategy and instructed O.J.’s lawyer, Paul Papick, to argue the case based on Article #4 of the U.S./Canada Extradition Treaty. Article #4 deals with political offenses and calls for political asylum for those who commit crimes of a political nature. Dac and Professor Hall supplied the court with hundreds of pages of documents detailing the issue of unceded B.C. aboriginal lands, the RCMP disinformation smear campaign, the 8 APCs and, perhaps most importantly, the estimated 77,000 rounds of ammunition shot at the Sundancers.
Professor Hall pointed out that O.J. was convicted of shooting at a police helicopter following the destruction of the camp truck, despite the fact that the RCMP video shows that both occupants were unarmed and fleeing for their lives through a hail of bullets. In her ruling, Judge Stewart said, “The Gustafsen Lake incident involved an organized group of native people, rising up in their homeland against the occupation by the Government of Canada, of their sacred and unceded tribal land.” She went on to compare the Native land issue in B.C. with volatile political struggles in Palestine and Northern Ireland, and ruled that O.J. was a political refugee and immune from extradition. Dacajeweiah told the CBC, “There hasn't been a victory of this magnitude for Indian peoples in five hundred years, and I think that this judge here clearly, unequivocally stated- ‘look, let's put away the illusions and let's put away the justifications for colonialism and let's look at the rule of law.’"
Gordon Campbell was recently elected Premier of B.C. (he ironically defeated incumbent Ujjal Dosanjh, the Attorney General largely responsible for the Gustafsen Lake debacle) on a platform of holding a referendum for the abrogation of Aboriginal Land Rights. Dacajeweiah and his allies take this threat seriously, considering the vast resources and sums of money involved. Dac is vowing to help wage a struggle against Campbell and his corporate allies saying, “Ujjal Dosanjh, although defeated by Campbell, will still be earning almost $750,000 per year for the rest of his life. It is ironic that this fascist who came to power as a result of the stance I initiated at Gustafsen Lake will continue to accumulate the wealth of the B.C. taxpayers. On the other hand, if Gordon Campbell, the current Premier, believes that he is going to eradicate Original People’s rights through a racist white backlash referendum, then he will throw this country into a constitutional crisis which could bring us once again to the brink of war!”
Dacajeweiah’s new book, “Autobiography of Splitting the Sky Along With his Wife Sandra Bruderer: From Attica to Gustafsen Lake; Unmasking the Secrets of the Psycho-Sexual Energy and the Struggle for Original Peoples Title” will be published later this summer, and plans are already finalized for a book tour this fall, kicking off in New York City on September 9, the thirtieth anniversary of the Attica Rebellion and Massacre. Dac and his wife Sandra with their four children Angela, Dylan, Rainbow & Che Thunder currently make their mountain home in Chase, B.C., a suburb of Kamloops, where Dacajeweiah continues to be active in the struggle for Peace and Justice.