Sometime between 27 February 1996 and 20 March 1996 the sacred Sundance arbor at Gustafsen Lake was taken down and burned. The people who did it and the reasons why are still unknown to Faithkeeper Percy Rosette and Sundance Chief Splitting the Sky. Suspected parties responsible include the RCMP, the Canoe Creek Band, the Cariboo Tribal Council and Lyle James. Unfortunately, no one at the moment is revealing what happened but, as the Ts'peten Defenders seek the truth, that truth will come out. Such a sacrilegious desecration of the arbor was done without informing any of the Sundancers either prior to or after the destruction. These breaches of trust are both disturbing and inexcusable between people of honorable intent.
The Canoe Creek Band and Lyle James made an agreement in September 1995 to ensure their use of the grounds at Gustafsen Lake for an alleged Sundance ceremony until 1997. This was done without the knowledge or approval of the Sundance leadership, including Medicine Man John Stevens, Percy Rosette and Splitting the Sky. At the time the intention was to draw the Ts'peten Defenders out of the camp during the Gustafsen Lake stand-off. Needless to say, this attempt failed as this agreement had nothing to do with the reasons for the presence and resistance of the Defenders. The traditional people were not looking for any kind of permission from Lyle James to follow their ways passed down to them through time. The following is from a statement put out by Agnes Snow detailing their proposed agreement of sacred site use which has now mysteriously become a casualty of scorched earth policy.
reprinted from KAHTOU October, 1995; Chief Agnes Snow, "The Talking Stick", p. 15
"Dear Chief Agnes Snow: Further to our meeting today, James Cattle Co. Ltd., registered owners in fee simple of District Lot 114, and the elected Council of the Canoe Creek Council have agreed to the following:1. James Cattle Co. Ltd. and the Canoe Creek Band agree, following consultation with the Sundancers, that a mutual decision will be made by James Cattle Co. Ltd. and the Canoe Creek Band on the use of Lot 114 for Sundance ceremonies.James Cattle Co. Ltd. and the Canoe Creek Band further agree that:
2. James Cattle Co. Ltd. and the Canoe Creek Band agree, following consultation with the Sundancers, that a mutual decision will be made by James Cattle Co. Ltd. and the Canoe Creek Band as to the future of the existing structures, including the Sundance site, on Lot 114.
3. James Cattle Co. Ltd. and the Canoe Creek Band agree on the use of the Lot for such a length of time as determined by James Cattle Co. Ltd. and the Canoe Creek Band. James Cattle Co. Ltd. understands the Sundance activities now underway on Lot 114 will end in August 1997.1. There will be continued access through Lot 114 for activities carried on by James Cattle Co. Ltd.This agreement is to take effect immediately."
2. There is to be no illegal use of firearms or disturbance of the general public in the Gustafson Lake area.
The Defenders' initial response has been to research and document this flagrant desecration of their Sundance ceremony and grounds. At the Commission of Human Rights Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, scheduled for the second week of April 1996, the Gustafsen Lake stand-off will be tabled for discussion and resolutions sought to expose and address the international violations of human rights by the colonial forces of Canada against the Aboriginal Nations of this continent.
To Percy Rosette, the spiritual leader of last summer's Gustafsen Lake standoff, the Sacred Arbor "was our church."
To Agnes Snow, chief of the Canoe Creek Band, it was a reminder of division, disruption and disrespect.
The Sacred Arbor was the centrepiece of the Gustafsen Lake Sundance site, an element that it was agreed would not be tampered with when the rebel natives, who call themselves the Defenders, agreed to stand down last Sept. 17.
On March 2 at least two of the local chiefs, Snow and Canim Lake's Antoine Archie, were involved in the ritual destruction of the circular arbor. According to a source close to the Sundance, the support poles were pulled and the debris gathered into seven piles which were burned.
The arbor is the centre of worship for the Sundance, a Plains Indian ritual brought to B.C. in recent times by native traditionalists. The Gustafsen Lake Sundance grounds, the site of a month-long armed standoff last summer, had been used since 1990.
"One of our elders said to do something about it," Snow explained last week. "We're doing it out of concern for our own people. The whole community has been feeling this way ever since Gustafsen Lake. They respected them in allowing them to come in and they disrespected us by what they did."
Both the landowner, Dog Creek rancher Lyle James, and the RCMP, acknowledge that they knew about the burning, but that decisions regarding the arbor were left up to the Cariboo Tribal Council.
"Part of it is that we have respected everybody that has used the area up to this point but we don't want to have that there again this year," said Snow.
A delegation of Sundancers, including Rita Charlie of Lac La Hache, was sent to meet with medicine man John Stevens, the Sundance spiritual leader, in Morley, Alta.
"He decided to take it down and put a new one there (if ceremonies continue), for a new beginning," Charlie said. One more Sundance had been in the works, excluding the defendants currently banned from the site by court order. Plans are now on hold.
As for the standoff defendants, they vehemently claim the "sacrilegious desecration of the arbor...was done without the knowledge or approval" of Stevens or the Sundance leadership. Stevens could note reached for direct comment.
Chief Snow said, "We talked to some of the Sundancers and we also talked to John Stevens who said it would be up to us what we do. He gave us his blessing that we'd do it in a good way and that's what we did."
From Hinton, Alta., other Gustafsen defenders insist the medicine man who directs the Sundance did not approve.
According to spokesman John Hill, also known as Splitting-the-Sky, "What Stevens told us is they wanted John to do the ceremony just for them. They didn't want us there. He said they should consult with us.
"What is relevant is, the old man (Stevens) said they would have to work it out with us. They never consulted with us in any fashion."
But the standoff militants were not the Cariboo chief's concerns, Snow said.
"We consulted with some of our elders and they said 'We can't carry on like that anymore.'"