Gustafsen Lake — the place may seem a world away as armed police officers and armored personnel carriers surround armed natives occupying a piece of sacred land near 100 Mile House.
But the situation at Gustafsen Lake has roots closer to home than many Whistler residents may think. Mount Currie residents Liz Scroggins and Johnny Jones were some of the last people to leave the native camp just over two weeks ago, while Harold Pascal of Mount Currie returned home yesterday from Ottawa where he stood beside controversial lawyer Bruce Clark in the Supreme Court of Canada.
Jones and Pascal are members of the Lil'wat People's Movement, while Scroggins is an active environmentalist and self-described "non-native supporter." All have one thing in common: they don't think the mainstream media's portrayal of the situation at Gustafsen Lake is accurate or fair, and that native issues in B.C. may be a long way from a peaceful resolution.
"When we came out we did not know whether or not they were going to arrest us," says Scroggins. "They (RCMP officers at the checkpoint) spent a half hour searching us and running us through their computers and when they realized we had only been in there two days, not a month, they let us go."
Everyone that has left the camp after Jones and Scroggins has been arrested or detained.
According to Jones, the people in the camp feel like they are "under siege." While most of the talk has been of exchanges of gunfire and shot RCMP officers, no one seems to be listening to the native leaders who have occupied the Sundance camp.
"The only word anyone on the outside gets is the word of the RCMP and the TV and newspaper people are more than happy to believe everything the RCMP say is fact… that was driving me crazy," says Jones who knows Wolverine, one of the elders in the camp. "The whole thing is one big lie and the only way to see it that way is to be on the inside."
Harold "Chubb" Pascal is a man of few words. With a gap-toothed grin, smiling eyes and a solid handshake he is the man who brought Bruce Clark — the lawyer for the natives at Gustafsen Lake — into the native rights debate. On Tuesday he stood beside Clark in the Supreme Court of Canada and listened to Clark argue the federal and provincial governments, in cohorts with the "illegally" appointed band councils and chiefs, are part of a long-standing plot to deny Canada's natives sovereignty over their unceded territory.
If Pascal had been behind the lines at Gustafsen Lake and not in the Supreme Court of Canada, he would have been branded a mercenary or terrorist. He says he is just one man trying to fight for the rights of his people and with Clark's constitutional law argument and the native's rule of law argument they will continue to battle until they have an audience with the Privy Council and, ultimately, the Queen.
Clark's legal argument is based on the Royal Proclamation of 1763, an aged tome best described as the constitution for people living in the unsettled British Colonies of the time. The proclamation says natives "should not be molested or disturbed" where lands have not been ceded or purchased by deed. The lands of the Shuswap People around Gustafsen Lake are unceded. Pascal's rule of law argument is simple: no government in Canada has jurisdiction over its First Nations.
Clark, Pascal and Wolverine all use terms like treason, genocide and fraud to describe what the governments and police — which they say have no jurisdiction over native issues in Canada — have perpetuated on native people. Pascal stood beside Clark in front of the Supreme Court of Canada Tuesday morning and says the judges called their arguments "preposterous."
"All the judges did was express their racist views and that is an important issue in our case," Pascal said on the phone from Clark's Ottawa home. "It's not that they don't understand the argument, they don't want to listen. The Supreme Court judges have the responsibility to uphold the rule of law and this morning they gave up that responsibility when they would not listen to us."
Pascal, traditional groundskeeper for the sacred burial grounds of the Lil'Wat People of Mount Currie, has taken part in three roadblocks in the Mount Currie area, been arrested, beaten and threatened for his beliefs, but he says he is going to return home to fight on. And as the treaty making process in B.C. flounders along, the heat over native issues in the province is not going to cool off.
At 3:30 a.m. Monday night flames licked up from the deck of the bridge over the Adams River near the area where a dispute has simmered all summer, as the Shuswap Band stakes their traditional right to land surrounding Adams Lake.
Plans are moving forward to pave the Lillooet Lake Road through Mount Currie, the site of a 1990 blockade set up by the Lil'wat People's Movement that was intended to force the federal government to recognize the LPN's sovereignty. This was the roadblock that first brought Pascal and Clark together.
Resolution on native land claims and sovereignty in B.C. seems far from over and the kettle is not heating up — it's almost ready to boil over.