At press time, the situation at Gustafsen Lake was still tense.

The Defenders of the Shuswap Nation remained surrounded by heavily armed RCMP officers and bloodshed at times seemed imminent.

Percy Roseget, a Shuswap hereditary Chief, has a cabin at Gustafsen Lake and has hosted sundance ceremonies there for many years.

A U.S. rancher, Lyle James, claims to have a deed to an enormous ranch in the area 160,000 hectares in size, which includes Percy’s land. While the Shuswap people have never been ceded this land in a treaty, Percy has been obliged to make an agreement with the rancher each year that allows the sundance. This year, Lyle James changed his mind.

On June 13, while sundancers prepared for their ceremony, heavily armed men in trucks entered the camp. One carried a whip. “It’s time to string up some red niggers,” he announced.

“They were threatening to do Percy some serious harm,” said Dakajeweiah, a Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) sundancer who is involved with the Defenders of the Shuswap Nation.

Roseget and the others refused to leave and eventually the RCMP moved in. In late August, an RCMP team that entered the disputed area said it came under fire. Provincial and federal politicians are demanding a police attack, which the Native group’s lawyer says would certainly lead to loss of life.

The Defenders of the Shuswap Nation demand an audience before the British Privy Council, Governor-General and Supreme Court to hear out their claim to the land. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 states that First Nations have sovereignty over all unceded land, says Bruce Clark, the group’s lawyer. He argues the Indian Act is illegal as a consequence, and his clients have a right to defend themselves with force under Canadian law.