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Gustafsen Lake participant writes his story


Terry Lusty, Windspeaker Contributor, Edmonton







Page 10

There are those who would brand him a trouble maker, renegade, radical or social misfit, but Splitting the Sky doesn't care. He's more interested in getting his message out, a message that the establishment refuses to hear, he says.

He is Dacajeweiah (Splitting The Sky). Among friends he is known as Doc. In the white world he is known as John Boncore and John Hill. In Canada he is most known for his association with the land claim protest at Gustafsen Lake, B.C. in 1995.

On April 26, Splitting the Sky faced a meager audience of three dozen or so people and a sea of empty seats at the Canadian Native Friendship Centre in Edmonton where he was scheduled to promote his recently published autobiography, a mammoth 653-page account of his life, entitled The Autobiography of Dacajeweiah, Splitting The Sky: From Attica to Gustafsen Lake.

There he unleashed a scathing attack on a world gone wrong, and a system that tramples on Native people, their sovereignty and their rights.

Edmonton was but one of his many stops on a speaking circuit that has already included Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, several cities in B.C., as well as a number of points in the United States.

Over a three-hour period, Splitting the Sky provided a glimpse into his background. Born in Buffalo, N. Y. in 1952, he claims Mohawk and Cree descent. Raised in orphanages, foster homes and boarding schools, much of his youth was spent in poverty, hungry and freezing. He says he wound up in prison "for stealing a submarine sandwich." It was a prison term that would ultimately stretch out for eight long years.

Splitting the Sky's in your face style eventually landed him in Attica, one of New York state's most notorious prisons. There, he grew up tough, fast and often in conflict.

In 1971, he came within an inch of losing his life at the infamous riot at the prison when hundreds of state troopers killed 43 people in the process. Prison officials accuse him of killing one of the guards.

While imprisoned, Splitting the Sky developed an insatiable appetite, not only for freedom and justice, but for reading. He read and educated himself about the history and culture of his people. Moreover, he became obsessed with righting the wrongs of his Native brothers.

He was also greatly struck by the vision and dream of the prophet Deganawida who "was given by the Creator a blueprint for self-determination and sovereignty . . . the epitome of the democratic process," he said.

In 1995, after spending much time in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Splitting the Sky was asked by an Elder from Morley, Alta. to lead the Sun Dance at Gustafsen Lake.

The land that the Indians were using for their Sun Dance was leased by the government to a cattle rancher named Lyle James. He said the people at the Sun Dance were threatened and ordered to leave that land. They did not and a standoff ensued, with the military and police forces called in to remove people from their Sun Dance camp.

Shots were fired, people were jailed, and the rest is left to the historians to sort out.

But Splitting the Sky has put Canada on notice, demanding an inquiry into the Gustafsen Lake conflict and the military force used to remove the Sun Dancers. And he's not going to rest, he says, until people see the truth.