US judge won't extradite Native man
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NOVEMBER 24, 2000

A federal judge in Oregon has denied the extradition of a Native man to Canada because he participated in an aboriginal uprising there in 1995.

On November 15, US District Judge Janice Stewart for the District of Oregon denied the extradition of James Pitawanakwat to Canada. Canada wants Pitawanakwat to return because he fled to the United States in violation of his parole.

But drawing parallels to the case of Leonard Peltier, Stewart has refused to release Pitawanakwat. She said the Extradition Treaty between the two countries allows for a political exception and concluded the crimes for which Pitawanakwat was convicted, and later paroled, were of a "political character."

Like Peltier and the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Pitawanakwat was part of a confrontation in support of Native rights. An Odawa (Ottawa) man born in an island in the Great Lakes, Pitawanakwat traveled to Gustafsen Lake in British Columbia in July 1995 to attend a Sundance ceremony.

The ceremony turned into a 30-day armed standoff between 18 Natives and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). As the RCMP descended on the area with helicopters, armed carriers, machine guns, and 400 military personnel, the group defended land they considered to belong to the Shuswap First Nation but which was owned by an American rancher.

Fortunately, no lives were lost, but the conflict ended up costing the Canadian government about $5.5 million. The subsequent trial was the longest criminal trial in the country's history, during which the RCMP admitted they engaged in a campaign of disinformation about the situation.

Along with two others, Pitawanakwat was eventually convicted in 1997 of misdemeanor charges and sentenced to serve four years. He was paroled in 1998 after serving a year but fled to the United States. As of January of this year, he had been living temporarily with Leonard Peltier's daughter in Kansas.

Stewart's ruling noted that the Gustafsen uprising led to increased treaty negotiations in British Columbia. Unlike the rest of the country, the government never engaged in treaty-making with First Nations there, leaving open many questions on the status of unceded land and aboriginal rights.

Relevant Links:
Gustafsen Lake Chronology -
Gustafsen Lake Archives -
OJ (James) Pitawanakwat Support Letters -

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