On Tuesday March 22, 2016, William Jones “Wolverine” Ignace passed away in the care of family in his home. He was an Elder of the Secwepemc people. In 1995, he and the Ts’Peten Defenders sought to reclaim unceded land on which sundances were being held, in what later became known as the Gustafsen Lake standoff.
Days before he passed away, APTN Investigates’ Rob Smith interviewed Wolverine for his story, “Asylum“. Wolverine and Smith were joined in the room by activist Kanahus Manuel and Wolverine’s granddaughter, Mindy Dick.
Here is an extended version of that interview. It has been edited for time and clarity. Below is a transcript of the video.
On an inquiry into the Gustafsen Lake stand-off.
WILLIAM “WOLVERINE” IGNACE: Because we want justice. This is our land. The documents I just gave you — 1493, that Doctrine of Discovery by the Pope, this is what they are using. No matter how hard we fight in courts — we learn the Constitution, their laws we use that in court, but yet, they refuse to listen.
Bruce [Allan] Clark [lawyer for the Secwepemc people following the standoff — ed.] was the only one ready, willing to fight at that level. He was bringing that out. Nobody wanted to listen to the message. Looked at his bald head and his glasses and made fun of him.
MINDY DICK: They disbarred him.
WOLVERINE: Yet this was strict law that he was bringing out. The constitutional law he spent 26 years studying. The first case, Bear Island. He brought that for the people there, and what happened? He fought for the wrong people. He fought for the elected system.
The people, the hereditary chiefs, are the true power in this country. Canada never had the right to create the Indian Act, undermine the true leaders, in 1880. 1884, [they] passed legislation banning our people from holding a job or any kind off practice or Sundance, everything. And that law was right ’til — 1951, finally rescinded that order.
I wish our people would study the white man’s laws. I tried. Only got a Grade 7 education, but I learned the constitution laws with Bruce; we were working together.
Now we look at 1493, everybody trying to find the — get the Pope to rescind that order. This is what the white man has used, regardless [of] how good international law, constitutional law — we know we never win. We tried. Went to The Hague twice, twice we got turned back. Just for justice.
This is what the fucking cops need to know! We were on strict law out there. They were the ones that escalated the whole incident. I was the one who put back all the law back. So.
On Wolverine’s trial, and what an inquiry into Gustafsen Lake would uncover.
WOLVERINE: Thirteen-and-a-half months.
KANAHUS MANUEL: Yeah, thirteen-and-a-half months was [the] trial. Within that trial they had, what’s it called, a voir dire? The trial within the trial to submit the —
WOLVERINE: They had five months of voir dire in New Westminster.
KANAHUS: They had to put forth all the evidence that came out during the Gustafsen Lake [standoff], but the judge wouldn’t even accept a lot of their evidence of jurisdiction. “Where’s the deed?”, “Where’s the title?”, “How did B.C. even get jurisdiction over this area?”
And yeah, the judge refused to accept a lot of the evidence and refused to listen to the constitutional law. That was the big thing in the court that was frustrating the lawyer so much. Bruce Clark went over to Scotland to go study law for six years.
WOLVERINE: Yeah, that’s the last six years. He went to Scotland, where they have — all the law Great Britain had was over there, so he went and studied that, came back. This time, he came back and fought for the traditional [people]. The first case that he fought, he fought for the wrong people. He fought for the elected system. After that, [he] didn’t cost the traditional [people] any monies because [of] the mistake he made. This was our Bear Island.
KANAHUS: But he also talked about Herb Grey, who was a Deputy Prime Minister, and [who] signed off on the APCs to be used against their people. People have to sign off on those APCs to be used in Gustafsen Lake, and so they were trying to bring that out in the court — like, who was actually signing off on sending the troops in, the RCMP.
He [Wolverine] says that this is an inquiry into — a federal inquiry he’s requesting, because we are federal subjects under the federal government. That the RCMP is under the federal jurisdiction, it’s a national police force. That there’s — what they also brought up in there was that there was this man by the name of Mike Webster, who is the advisor to the FBI. He was hired by the government to be [an] adviser to the RCMP. He was used at Oka, Gustafsen Lake, Ruby Ridge, Montana Freeman [sic], and Waco and Peru. So they brought in these big advisers to the RCMP, and they were overseeing everything that was happening at Gustafsen Lake.
On his son Joseph “Jo-Jo” Ignace, and what happened at the stand-off.
WOLVERINE: And August 18th — we had a meeting, supposed to be a meeting on the 21st. They come in August 18th, pull a raid 5-o’clock in the morning. Shots were fired by Percy Rosette — [they] blamed my son for it. My son had to stay in jail all that time and got needled up by the system — scrambled his brains, throw him in the nut house. Finally, Holmes got him and took care of him. He came to — started coming back, his mind. He was coming home. He froze in Hope. It was up from Hope, that highway going to Highway 3. He went down [to] rest — froze.
KANAHUS: That stuff about Jo-Jo they were talking about was, Jo-Jo was one of the strongest warriors inside, and what the was saying was that when they took him in, they tried to say things, but he was the strongest one.
His hair got shot off, and it just lifted it up and he war cried. He would go out there when there would be a shootout. All the women would go jump into the fox holes, and Jo-Jo would be running out there back and forth, making sure everyone was alright.
When he went to the trial, they said they put that paper bag material over him and they just tried to embarrass him. They put bulletproof glass on the court, they made them go through metal detectors every day — and then after, when everyone was out, Jo-Jo was still in, and they kept him drugged up with needles that was affecting his brain. And finally, he just broke out of the nut house, that crazy house they had him in, and then he tried riding his bike and tried coming back and that’s when he froze to death out there by that Princeton-Hope turnoff. That’s where they found him. That’s still not exposed, that’s related to his involvement to Gustafsen Lake.
So that was on August 18th. When the first shot was fired up at Gustafsen Lake, Jo-Jo was here working on the septic field here, digging out the septic field. And Wolverine was here when they got the call from Percy that there was a shot made up at Gustafsen Lake.
They all went up there, but after, in the trial, to pin it on Jo-Jo — that Jo-Jo took the first shot, but he was here at the house.
WOLVERINE: I was out there, right in the front line where the APCs were. There, we had the gunfight.
So if we can’t get justice in this country, what the hell good is it to live here?
Poor education, monies, housing, water, health, while the white people get it all. Meanwhile our timber is harvested and we don’t receive anything, destroying our moose habitat, our deer winter grounds. These are something. Now we have pipelines. I called a meeting and I tried to get all the warriors, put all our issues, and put our issues to the UN. I’m not playing a game. I play for real. So I call a meeting, people came.
Now I hope some of these so-called elected leaders, the chiefs, finally realize what the hell they are doing, because they ain’t doing shit. I’ll tell them right to their faces. I’ll tell people right to their face, because what we are trying to achieve is justice. Justice for our people, [to] have a better life, a healthier life, not drinking contaminated water, boiling water advisories.
Shoal Lake — people from Shoal Lake were here. They been now pipeline will go right through. Not even thirteen kilometers. If a spill happened in that area, [that’s] all Winnipeg water. This is what the system, the people already got these boiling plants, they’re wasting, destroying water, table water by fracking where gas come up. Pipelines, everything. Now once they destroy all our waters, then we have to buy water from them. They wasting. People have to get on the ball and see what’s really happening.
On O.J. Pitawanakwat, the subject of “Asylum”, who was at Gustafsen Lake with Wolverine.
WOLVERINE: Oh O.J., my young friend.
After that explosion I ran down from camp, ran down through the bush. I just got to the opening, and O.J. and them — they were swimming, and armored personal carriers came in shooting them right in the water. I was there, guys were shooting them, [their] hands up.
That’s kind of mentality the RCMP have when they see a real threat, a real threat, to their existence. O.J. [and] I took all the heat.
A guy, as I run down, a guy was standing out, I shot a half an inch low. Hit the iron. I was going to shoot him in the ass. But he ducked down like a [?–inaudible], really fast. Turn around, he was going to run me down. Flatten me out with that 14-ton rig. I look back, four feet behind me. I duck — I mean, I put my head to the left, look like I’m going to the left. That army guy steered to the left. I jumped to the right. I run to that tree. I figured they’d never get through that, too big, but he bump. That’s when they shoot out, and three more come in.
KANAHUS: [gestures to Wolverine] He shot at an APC and disabled the APC — and he always tells that war story to all the young people, that if you wanna out beat his warrior status, then take out an APC with one shot from the hip. And that’s — he never lied about that, he’s always been truthful about his involvement in the standoff, and tells all the young people not to have fear. That as long as we speak the truth, that we have nothing to fear.
APTN INVESTIGATES: What did you hit when you hit the APC?
KANAHUS: [repeating so Wolverine can hear] When you shot at the APC?
WOLVERINE: When he pushed the tree over, and then that root came up and lifted that armoured personnel carrier, there was this cylinder about that big [Wolverine gestures with his hands, about the size of his torso.] It was the hydraulics for the power steering. I put two bullets — one high, one low — and emptied out the oil for the power steering, so they couldn’t do nothing.
Then they radioed — three more came in. And at the firefight, I ran through — I lost all my clips. I had five clips — sixty rounds, five of them, and I had 2,000 rounds. I wasn’t playing.
I said if this is the kind of country we live in, it’s better to be taken out by them — but nothing happened, because of the power of the sundance.
That’s when 77,000 rounds — bullets were chest height. They cut the trees down, trying to hide evidence of what they done.
I can’t forget my old friend [Ujjal] Dosanjh [B.C. Attorney General, 1995-2000 — ed.]. Funny how an immigrant to this country can call an indigenous person from here a squatter.
I met them a couple of years later after I got in the pen. It was an election, all them politicians talking. Dosanjh was there, we went up there and took that mic. We never let one of them speak.
Dosanjh goes, “Oh, long time no see.” I said, we’re gonna [have] a breakthrough — one day people like you, I will have you charged for genocide. There is no such thing as [a] statute of limitations on genocide. ‘Cause this is what they are doing to our people, here in our country.
So this might the last interview from me. I’m getting on my last legs. I may call one more [meeting of] allied tribes, bring more people together.