RCMP forged closer ties with native communities after the Gustafsen Lake standoff by bringing peace offerings of tobacco to elders, attending a healing ceremony and offering an apology for the Mounties' role in residential schools, says Shuswap native Charlene Belleau, who has been instrumental in bringing the natives together with the Mounties.
The RCMP approached Ms. Belleau to help during the Gustafsen Lake standoff after efforts of local and national elected chiefs had failed, she said in a recent interview. As an active community member in the Esketemc First Nation, she involved elders, women and some young people in helping bring about a peaceful resolution.
When the sundancers surrendered to police, Ms. Belleau ensured they were shown respect. After they were brought to the jail cells, they were blessed.
"These were spiritual people in the camp. They had responsibilities for pipes, drums, sweat lodges. Those are sacred for our people," she said.
Afterwards, the RCMP asked her about connecting with the community. She arranged a meeting with elders.
The RCMP were asked to bring tobacco offerings and ask for guidance. The RCMP spoke, the elders spoke and they agreed to work together, Ms. Belleau said.
The RCMP learned that they must speak to community leaders as well as elected leaders. At Ms. Belleau's suggestion, the RCMP in B.C. reiterated an apology on residential schools to B.C. natives that the national police force had issued. A lot of anger and frustration comes from residential schools, she said. "They have no tolerance for white people." The apology opened doors that allowed the RCMP to work on other issues, she said.
Five years after the occupation, a healing ceremony was held involving aboriginal people who were on the inside and RCMP officers who were trying to end the occupation. Both sides spoke frankly.
The efforts to reach out to the native communities has led to the development of several protocols for cooperation, the RCMP say.
A Gustafsen Lake timeline
July, 1989 Rancher Lyle James and Shuswap native Percy Rosette reach an agreement to allow natives to use a lakeside campground on the property for a ritual sundance.
May, 1995 A fence is erected around the campsite. The natives say the fence was intended to keep cattle out of the area used for the sundance. James fears the natives have started to erect a permanent encampment on the land.
June 13, 1995 The natives are formally told they can no longer hold sundance ceremonies on the property.
July 2 - 12, 1995 Sundance ceremony held. Most participants leave over the following weeks. About 20 men, women and children remain behind.
Early August, 1995 RCMP receive information that firearms and explosives have been moved into campsite. Natives in camouflage gear are seen carrying hunting rifles while patrolling the perimeter.
Aug. 11, 1995 Fisheries officers stop two natives going fishing and find an AK-47, a hunting rifle, boxes of ammunition and a loaded pistol.
Aug. 18, 1995 A shot is fired at an RCMP officer. Mounties, assisted by the Canadian army, begin to construct a base camp with armored personnel carriers, helicopters and a field hospital.
Aug. 25, 1995 RCMP roadblock finds semiautomatic rifle, ammunition belt in vehicle heading toward campsite. Native spokesman says the pending confrontation is war, and if demands are not met, the only way they would come out was in body bags.
Sept. 11, 1995 RCMP and natives exchange fire. A red truck is blown up on the road by an explosive device planted by the RCMP. Mounties shot at while trying to catch fleeing occupants of truck. Thousands of rounds of ammunition are shot in gun battle, but no one is seriously injured.
Sept. 17, 1995 Standoff ends; 13 men and five women arrested.