The riddle of Nelson Small Legs

Why should the FBI or the CIA infiltrate the Canadian Indian movement? Perhaps because the United States wants to see the Mackenzie Valley pipeline built

Marci McDonald October 18 1976

The riddle of Nelson Small Legs

Why should the FBI or the CIA infiltrate the Canadian Indian movement? Perhaps because the United States wants to see the Mackenzie Valley pipeline built

Marci McDonald October 18 1976

To the west, over the Rockies, storm clouds of quicksilver are gathering with a terrible beauty, but here in the spare rolling foot-hills of the Stoney Indian reservation at Morley, Alberta, the stillness hangs thick and electric. It is not at all as I expected it to be. Only two hours earlier, I had been about to catch the last plane of the day out of Calgary when the phone rang. “Roy says to tell you that they’ve occupied the band office at Morley,” a girl’s voice said. Nothing more. But that was enough. It was the call that I had been waiting over a month for in some eerie, inexplicable, deep-down-in-the-bones way. The call that promised to fit together some of the missing ragged pieces, assorted characters and preposterous outlines of a strange and unsettlingjigsaw puzzle I had watched taking shape before me over the weeks. But in the end the call was as much of a surprise as this surreal suspension of all animation that hangs now over the hills of Morley.

It is quiet, too quiet, as our car noses off the Trans-Canada Highway and down the reserve’s long gravel right-of-way—the roads all oddly deserted, as if the settlement’s heart has just been evacuated, in the fields no flicker of movement, in the brisk twilight air no child’s cry or mongrel’s bark. Then at the end of the road, we see it—the flutter of a Canadian mapleleaf flag hanging upended from the balcony of the timber A-frame tribal administration office where only hours earlier, in the midst of a quiet, unassuming band council meeting, 30 Indians brandishing rifles and the red berets of the American Indian Movement (AIM) had piled out of a convoy of cars and pickup trucks, raced up the mud embankment and burst through the door, shouting charges of administrative corruption and waving lists of demands for reform, then commandeering the building and decking it out in upsidedown Canadian flags, the traditional SOS signal of wartime which has come to signify AIM’S presence, a symbol of the Indian nation in distress.

They have despatched the three chiefs and councilmen to spread their demands among the people and bring back an answer. Even at this very moment under the deceptive cloak of this calm, the news is spreading through the reserve like a brush fire, tempers flaring, rage fanned by shock and resentment, and by dark a restive, muttering crowd will have gathered down at the end of the road in the big band hall barn to hear ringing cries to arms in Stoney—more than 250 young bucks in cowboy boots and stetsons ready to rush the A-fralne, trigger fingers itching to root out these intruders, the threat of Indian rising against Indian in an ugly confrontation hovering tense in the night air.

But for now there is only the silence and the waiting. As we pull into the parking lot, we can make out the braided silhouettes of two AIM security guards standing vigil on the balcony, scanning the horizon with a rifle’s dismantled telescopic sight. They pick us out through its lens, then recognize me and motion a photographer and myself up the hill. As we approach, an RCMP constable suddenly materializes from a blue cruiser half-hidden off the roadway and strides over to try to dissuade us. “I can’t stop you from going in there, but I would strongly advise against it,” he says. More than once during the long night that is to follow, as it is made clear to me that I am a hostage, albeit a willing one, AIM’S ticket to safety from sniper fire and the fury of the Stoney crowd below, I will wonder why I have not listened.

But I have come to the West in search of answers about the threat of Indian militancy, and after half a summer of driving over dusty reserve roads and flying over untracked Northwest Territorial hunting grounds, after countless rendezvous in bus stations, back rooms and panel trucks, I have found only questions—questions so bizarre and haunting that years of research could not document or resolve them. I have come in quest of the American Indian Movement in Canada, delving for a sense of its size and influence, a sounding on its commitment and intent, and along the way I have happened upon a broken trail of mistrust and intrigue, of propaganda and paranoia, weird rumors of murder and malevolent medicine ceremonies, whispered hints of CIA and Communist infiltration, sinister tales of gun-running and scenarios from evangelical showbiz extravaganzas, plots and counterplots.

During those weeks, the only thing that has become clear is that a fistful of disparate and opposing forces are locked into a gamble over the fate of the Canadian Indian people in a crap game where all the dice appear loaded and there will perhaps never be any clear winner—a game where the stakes are so high that they could determine the entire future of this country. It is a game that has no real sidelines, and even the press cannot fail to be drawn in as both pawns and players—a fact of which I have suddenly become only too well aware. But if I am to know anything at all of what I have come here for, some of the answers at least lay at the top of this unexpected rampart, behind a besieged orange door.

The curtains are all drawn against the dusk and distant rifle fire, only the bulb from a windowless hall washroom casting a murky half-light. As the door swings shut behind me and is lashed back to a wroughtiron stair rail, it takes a moment to make out the four figures crouched on barricades against the threshold, poised over me with brute wooden truncheons and baseball bats. One of them, a tall skinny Blackfoot from the distant Piegan reserve, will later strike up an acquaintance, his four-foot club still clutched in one scarred fist. “They call me The Enforcer,” he says. His face is devoid of expression behind shanks of brown hair, and his eyes are glazed with a strange sort of numbness, as if they have seen horrors beyond the scope of his 19 years. It is an average age among this tiny armed band.

The others all bustle about making preparations for the long night’s occupation, unloading blankets, passing out cartons of doughnuts and baloney and setting up walkie-talkies. There are wives here and babies too, and two toddlers scamper through the legs of lookouts in a game of tag that gives the whole thing a disconcerting sense of celebration, which is misleading. For as anonymous phone threats start to ring in on the switchboard—hoarse warnings of Stoney gangs lying in wait out in the darkness to chainwhip them and worse—one thought sits grimly in the air. “I knew when I came in here that I might never walk out alive,” The Enforcer says.

Still, I feel no fear. Over these weeks the cast of characters here has become a familiar one: Devalon Small Legs, the 22-yearold chief of AIM security with the build of a small howitzer and scarlet streamers flaring from his braids, who searches me for weapons; Don Rider, the rotund 38-yearold AIM medicine man from Morley with his curious third braid knotted like a cigar stub in the centre of his forehead, rumors about his powers sending ripples of restraining fear through some of the Stoneys outside, although he is the nominal leader of this occupation; Roy Littlechief, AIM’S taciturn pockmarked western director, who is the actual shrewd master strategist behind it; and Ed Burnstick, the tall, lean 34-year-old who is AIM’S embattled Canadian director, just flown in from Europe for the occasion, a Belfast tourist pin stuck in his black visor cap, in the sinister-looking leather pouch dangling from his studded belt a pocket Instamatic camera.

But as they gather around a redshrouded war drum in the centre, the overwhelming presence in this hall is that of a man who is no longer among them: the shadow of Nelson Small Legs Jr., the 23year-old Blackfoot director of AIM in Southern Alberta who had channeled all his bitterness and frustration at the white world into this movement until that tragic Sunday last May 16 when he slowly and deliberately dressed himself in the scarlet ceremonial dancing costume he had made, performed the sacred rites of the sweat lodge he had been initiated into, carefully placed his red-beaded dancing shawl, his fan of eagle feathers and pipe on a Formica coffee table along with three eloquent hand-scribbled suicide notes, one of them demanding an investigation into the Department of Indian Affairs and the resignation of its last minister Judd Buchanan, then laid down on the plaid sofa of his empty living room draped in the scarlet Piegan flag and pulled the trigger on his Parker Hale hunting rifle—a .30-30 calibre bullet smashing through his heart.

It is nearly six months now since the death of Nelson Small Legs—six months since he has been enshrined as a martyr for his people. All through the long cool summer there has been a sense of violence about to explode in his name, but then ... nothing. The spark of a brief sit-in here, a small memorial rally there, a minor roadblock. But nothing of impact until the weekend before this occupation when AIM has staged a massive three-day powwow in his memory at the Calgary Stampede grounds. His father, Nelson Sr., who is a Piegan band councillor, a one-eyed giant of a man magnificent in orange-beaded buckskin and feathers, has led the grand entry march to a drum’s slow tattoo, followed by Devalon Small Legs and the two dozen massed youth of Calgary AIM each carrying his black-bordered portrait—the sombre bespectacled eyes staring out like accusing memento mori all weekend from every wall and shaded grove. It is no mere coincidence that this confrontation at Morley has erupted the very next day. The relics of Nelson Small Legs are everywhere—ribbons from the powwow still streaming from jeans’ jacket shoulders proclaiming AIM’S colors, the big round Day-Glo buttons they had peddled at one dollar apiece still blazing from epaulets and hatbands with the reminder: REMEMBER MAY 16. Now, as darkness creeps over the band office, Don Rider, the man who taught Nelson Small Legs the mysteries of the medicine tent, leaves no doubt about it. “This is the first step of Nelson’s demands,” he says. Then he rolls over on the collapsed canvas skin of a teepee spread under a lopsided portrait of the Queen and tunes in his transistor radio to hear how the news is getting out.

“Squeamish?” asks the RCMP constable. “No,” I shrug and he hands me a snapshot of Nelson Small Legs’ death scene, the colors so stark and vivid as to seem like a set piece. It is a week before the siege at Morley and I have come to the Piegan Indian reserve at Pincher Creek, hard by Fort Macleod, the historical home of the Northwest Mounted, on my search for his legacy. But I have found only a rush of rumors on the hot dry wind which rustles over the bright mound of plastic flowers that marks his grave, raising dust and questions. Twice during that week I have been told that Nelson Small Legs died with a curse on his head from a white medicine man against whom he had waged a bitter campaign. Once, that he had had a falling-out with the U.S. leaders of AIM over his lack of militancy. And once that the word was out among his fellow Indians in AIM that he was an RCMP informer. But the dark allegation that resurfaces most often and most surely is that his death was not suicide at all.

The RCMP constable dispels any doubts on that matter. “No way—the case is absolutely closed,” he shakes his head. He has taken hours to be helpful—indeed, the entire force has been so extraordinarily helpful that an officer from the special autonomous squad devoted to maintaining this country’s internal security has turned up at Pincher Creek the same day I have, although I have given him no warning that I am coming, and an RCMP public relations officer has telephoned me, unsolicited, to offer his services and theories. “You know, of course, that Nelson’s wife had just left him,” he says. The message can hardly be mistaken: This was a guy who was depressed—maybe a mixed-up kid with personal problems. But Audrey, his slim, fineboned, 22-year-old widow, says that Nelson sent her to stay with her parents that weekend, just as months earlier, in the midst of a Saskatchewan powwow, he had suddenly telephoned his own parents in the dead of night to go fetch her and the children because he feared for their lives. What becomes clear in any conversation with the Mounties is that they have been distressed at the press coverage of Nelson Small Legs’ death—less than pleased at the predictions of imminent uprisings, the TV cameras zooming in on a clenched AIM fist warning, “Judd Buchanan better get six bodyguards”—and now they have an investment in a little public relations of their own. It is not in the national interest for Nelson Small Legs to be entombed as a saint and martyr. “His death is the best thing that’s happened to AIM, and they’re exploiting it to the hilt,” says the constable. But it is also a time bomb that could go off at any moment—a possible rallying point for 80% of Alberta Indians who are 18 and under—and there is no doubt that the RCMP has an interest in defusing it.

They spend hours telling me that the American Indian Movement consists of no more than two dozen kids with no grassroots reserve support—devote days to debunking any hints of radicalism. It is a curious exercise considering that the RCMP had spent enough time and energy in the surveillance of Nelson Small Legs to provoke him into calling a press conference last February to protest their harassment—complaining of unmarked cars that stopped him constantly on the highway and plainclothes cameramen who photographed him at every airport. But it is an even more curious exercise considering the fact that only one year ago the RCMP reported to then solicitor general Warren Allmand, now the new Minister of Indian Affairs, that Canada’s Indian militants were “the principal threat to national stability.”

Now, as they deny that security report and minimize AIM’S numbers, it is interesting to note that it took a mere eight members of an FLQ cell to turn this country topsy-turvy and hysterical during the October crisis and catch the RCMP totally off guard. There are times now when I get the uneasy feeling that I know as much about AIM as the police do. As I sit in a darkened legion hall one afternoon with a security squad officer wearing pointy cowboy boots, he confides that “You’d have to look far and wide to find a really militant Indian in Alberta. Outspoken, yes. But as far as picking up guns—no way.” Six days later I will meet him on the gravel road outside the armed siege at Morley.

A full moon is rising over the Morley tribal administration office. Inside, as the small band of warriors encircles the war drum to raise AIM’S high haunting obligato cry, Ed Burnstick kneels in a darkened corner. “If there is violence, this could be another Wounded Knee,” he says quietly. In fact, the bitter 71-day siege of Wounded Knee on the Sioux Pine Ridge reserve in South Dakota, began much the same way in the spring of 1973 when a small AIMcadre descended in protest against the local tribal council chairman, provoking a massive paramilitary counter-blockade with tanks and squads of FBI agents which loosed bloodshed and shock waves that are still reverberating throughout the Indian nation. For most of the world, it was AIM’S public debut, although the movement had started five years earlier in Minneapolis when a fistful of Indian ex-cons led by Dennis Banks decided to take the lessons of cultural pride and heritage learned in cell-block consciousness-raising sessions out beyond the prison walls. Ed Burnstick had heard of them as he hitchhiked across America—a lanky acne-scarred Cree who had been born on a trapline north of Edmonton, dropped out of school after grade nine and set off in search of he knew not what—but it wasn’t until he joined the star-studded occupation of Alcatraz and caravan of Broken Treaties, which led to a take-over of FBI offices in Washington, that he realized he had begun to find one of the answers he sought, and came back to Canada to beat the drums for AIM.

In the spring of Wounded Knee, the first Canadian AIM chapter took root in London, Ontario, and since then 22 others have blossomed across the country as a new generation of Indians swelled with pride, turning their backs on a future once paved straight for skid-road despair and humiliation, declining the oblivion of the bottle and strutting their bone chokers, braid sticks and newly learned lessons of the sweat lodge around the common rallying cry, “Have you been to The Knee?”

But in the United States Wounded Knee left its own acrid aftertaste—a wake scarred with mysterious shootings and bitter police backlash. Bit by bit, as documents trickle out of the Rockefeller Commission report on CIA activities and the Senate Church committee into domestic spying by the FBI, the picture emerges of a major government assault on the American Indian Movement with the same sort of blind panic and paranoia that law enforcement authorities reacted to the Black Panthers with in the Sixties, a battle waged under covert names such as the CIA’S “Operation CHAOS” and “Garden Plot” designed to divide, disrupt and discredit AIM with skillful press manipulation and seasoned provocateurs sowing the seeds of mistrust and discontent—a war fought with rumors and informers.

It is history now that the catalyst behind the bloody Chicago shoot-out that killed Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was a paid FBI informer, William O’Neal, who had penetrated the party so deftly that he was Hampton’s personal bodyguard. It is also history that, until his cover was blown by careless court documents last summer, the chief source of information on AIM in the United States was a fast-talking, planeflying FBI agent-informer by the name of Douglas Durham, a former Marine who had dyed his hair black, donned brown contact lenses and Indian turquoise and, posing as a photographer for an underground Iowa newspaper, insinuated himself into the movement during Wounded Knee with such success that he spent nearly two years as director of AIM’S U.S. security and Dennis Banks’ personal pilot and friend. Durham might be an unrelated footnote to history—just as AIM in Canada has been largely unrelated to the organization in the United States—if his trail had not spilled over the border, sending out tremors both strange and unnerving.

For after Wounded Knee, Durham had spirited Banks into a remote Northwest Territories Indian community where his outbursts in the midst of a church service provoked temporary hysteria on the part of the people and local police; the following summer he also flew him into Ontario for the tense 38-day occupation of Kenora’s Anicinabe Park. Since then, his identity revealed, Durham may have proved even more useful. Not quite two weeks after the siege at Morley, a sixmonth-old U.S. Senate subcommittee report will be released to the press in which Durham claims that arms and fugitives are being smuggled across the Canada-U.S. border, that a secret cache of guns and bombs still lies buried in both Anicinabe Park and the Northwest Territories, and that the American Indian Movement in Canada has direct links to the Communist Party. This the press will dutifully report, although by now it has been a repeatedly documented FBI tactic of disruption to stir public fears about any dissident group by linking them both with guns and the dread spectre of Communism.

Certainly, if AIM is stockpiling weapons, they are not on display here in this makeshift fortress at Morley. Even during the most tense moments of the night, four rifles are all I see. “What chance do you think a handful of Indians with guns would have anyway,” asks Devalon Small Legs, “against all the forces that the police and army can call out?” Still, he does not back off from the thought of a violent outbreak. “We’re ready,” he says. “We’ve been pushed. Society has pushed us this far.”

As for the accusation of Communist backing, there is no doubt that some members such as Vern Harper of the Toronto Warriors Society are active Marxist-Leninists, or that various factions of the far left in Canada have attached themselves to the Indian cause like lichens to a tree. But Ed Burnstick and the main core of AIM have gone out of their way to dissociate themselves from that at every turning— ushering the Marxist-Leninists and their leaflets firmly away from the door of a small Nelson Small Legs’ memorial rally in Toronto, even dropping out of the Native People’s Caravan to Parliament Hill halfway across the country when he felt it had been taken over by the Marxists and the Maoists. That may, in fact, have ignited a leadership battle in aim—but then even this is surrounded by strange circumstances and conjecture.

In mid-July Ed Burnstick picked up a newspaper in Edmonton and read that he had been fired as AIM’S Canadian director by a national assembly in Vancouver. The statement had been issued by an Alberta Métis drifter named Les House, who has since disappeared underground. But once again the press dutifully printed the statement without posing the questions behind it. Not only had Ed Burnstick never convened a national AIM assembly in Vancouver, but no one he knew in AIM had attended it beyond a tight-knit band of American and Canadian dissidents in Vancouver who were either working for the defense of Wounded Knee veteran Leonard Peltier or linked to the MarxistLeninists. In the confusion that followed, 15 of the 23 AIM Canada chapters pledged their support behind Burnstick, but it has left the movement mystified and uneasy. The air is ripe with mistrust and rumors, one of the ugliest that Ed Burnstick is an RCMP informer, another that there is a contract out among Indians against his life. If vested interests were waging a war of dirty tricks to divide and conquer the American Indian Movement in Canada, they could not have succeeded more brilliantly. The question is who could those vested interests be?

Circling around AIM like moths is a curious roster of white dramatis personae with certain versions of events to promote—all of them American, most of them immigrants to Canada around the time of the FLQ crisis when foreign governments might have had a more than passing interest in our national security and at least a few whose biographies bear a striking resemblance to that of Douglas Durham’s. There is, for instance, a Michigan fine arts graduate who says he avoided the draft by paying a psychiatrist to testify he was unfit to serve although he demonstrates a deft knowledge of military terms, and who claims to have been involved with the Weathermen at college although he talks scornfully of“Commies.”As the land-lore editor of a short-lived Toronto hippie paper and a self-styled manufacturer of canvas teepees, he first sought out the members of AIM just after Wounded Knee, offering them, gratis, smuggled videotapes of the occupation, then volunteering as a sorely needed fund raiser. In the course of it, he attached himself to Nelson Small Legs, whom he once provoked to punch himout,and observers note that he seems to have an obsession with talking about guerrilla warfare and revolution. “Alberta’s a powder keg about to go off,” he will tell me more than once when I find him—temporarily lying low in a house with an RCMP poster on one wall and a history of the force in the bookcase.

There is also the brilliant onetime Green Beret who admits he spent three years training Vietnamese montagnards in guerrilla warfare at special forces camps in North Carolina and Texas before he drifted north to Pincher Creek and set up his own Indian handicraft store. Trying to learn the mysteries of the Indian medicine ceremonies, he cultivated the friendship of Nelson Small Legs, who, he says, more than once asked him about the possibility of setting up a web of radio communications systems and Indian guerrilla warriors, although he is careful to point out that he always refused. Still he is full of dark tales and sinister suggestions that cast a pall of doubt over all I hear, spreading the sense that no one can be trusted.

It is a feeling that the members of AIM know well. “I don’t trust anybody,” says Devalon Small Legs quietly. “We know there are leaks but we can’t put our finger on them and we know that the CIA is involved.” Over and over again, I am told that the CIA is involved. But as I wait out the night at Morley, the question that remains unanswered is not so much how, as why?

The Wardair Twin Otter circles lazily over a tiny log settlement which suddenly appears over one wing tip, then hovers, dips and shatters the glassy calm of Lac La Martre where it disgorges Mr. Justice Thomas Berger and his traveling road show, better known as the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. For nearly two years and hundreds of thousands of air miles he has taken his royal commission out to the people of the Northwest Territories in what may be the most remarkable judicial process of this country’s history, journeying to the remotest fish camps and Arctic inlets to see and hear in person how the building of a natural gas pipeline and subsequent energy corridor down the Mackenzie Valley will affect them, let alone if one should be built—a decision that must rest finally with the government after his report is finished late this fall. Now, as he winds up this last set of community hearings in Lac La Martre, the resounding consensus is an eloquent No. In the clapboard meeting hall where he presides from behind a white-draped pool table, the people straggle forward to cast their vote in this epic oral referendum— ancient hunters with faces wizened by the seasons, women with papooses slung in flannel sheets across their back, even small children. “No pipeline, please,” one after another repeats.

This community is 3,000 miles away from the occupation at Morley—light years from the confinements and humiliation of reservation life. Here, dignity comes with a vast territorial imperative as a man ranges for hundreds of miles over fenceless, title-free land in pursuit of the cariboo that will feed and clothe his family all winter. But there are connections too. It was to this community and its sister Rae Lake that Douglas Durham flew AIM leader Dennis Banks after Wounded Knee. And it was here, in the heart of the Dogrib nation, that the battle between its two sons, James Wah-Shee and George Erasmus, both born in neighboring Rae, was waged most bitterly for the presidency of the Northwest Territorial Indian Brotherhood this past year—fanned by a swirl of rumor, suggestions of Communist infiltration and mysterious campaign financing. It is here too, as the hearing drones on into the night, that one of the young community leaders, a 27-year-old maintenance man named Mike Nitsiza, suddenly invokes the name of a southern stranger, Nelson Small Legs Jr., in his plea to prevent the pipeline. “I read about why he killed himself,” he says later. “He’s showing us we should fight for ourselves even if it means a death.”

The pieces of the jigsaw coalesce and slowly come together. One by one, they take on the vague connecting thread that centres around the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. For there is no doubt that the struggle of the people who call themselves the Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories to have their land claims recognized—to win their price in land title and self-determination, not money and extinguishment of legal land rights as happened over the James Bay hydro project— is the major issue of the native movement on this continent. The Dene, not yet herded onto reserves and representing the majority of the North’s population, have a strength and bargaining power that the rest of their southern brothers have already lost. “This is the last stand,” as Ed Burnstick says.

Should the government try to ignore them and go ahead with the pipeline, there has been every indication during the course of the Berger inquiry that violence looms ugly and inevitable on the horizon. No ringing rhetorical flourishes—just a quiet steely statement of fact. “If your nation becomes so violent as to force a pipeline through our land,” 31-year-old former chief Frank T’seleie of Fort Good Hope, one of the new generation of young leaders, had told Judge Berger, “then we love our land and our future enough to blow up the pipeline ... It is so that this unborn child can know the freedom of this land that I am willing to lay down my life.”

The question of the pipeline has built a strong Indian Brotherhood in the North and the process of the Berger inquiry has gradually politicized the people to take their stand behind it and become aware of their clout. But, on the pipeline hangs not only the future of the Indians in this country, but also the larger question of Canadian sovereignty. Through the Berger inquiry it has become clear that the main reason for the pipeline is to bring the energy reserves of the North not to eastern Canada, but down through Alberta and into the American Midwest, where they are badly needed. Washington’s new ambassador to Ottawa, Thomas Enders, has spent the better part of his appointment roaming the country reminding us of the need to share our resources—in his wake a trail of indications that he is here specifically to see that the pipeline goes through. And if the chief threat to that pipeline is Indian militancy, who would have a greater interest in seeing it stamped out— either by fannning it enough to provoke an excuse for repression or by disrupting its evolution altogether—than the agencies of our good neighbor to the South. We have seen how far the United States would go in Panama with less at stake. What greater motive to intrude in our affairs than an economic lifeline through our nation? It is a question—only a question. But it is a question that must be asked each time an FBI report is leaked to the press fanning the fears of Indian militancy in the North or a campaign of rumor is waged discrediting an Indian leader or martyr. Before the death of Nelson Small Legs, after all, Louis Riel was the last great rallying figure in the native cause and it is seldom remembered, through the mists of history, that Louis Riel’s rebellion of 1885 was also sparked by the issue of land claims.

Questions, and more questions. The sun comes up over the tribal administration office at Morley, and in the crisp morning light, the upside-down Canadian flag is furled and the leaders of AIM come straggling out around their war drum, fists raised in the AIM cry, a sign that some of their demands have been met and the siege is over. It is 36 hours since it began, and two RCMP cruisers escort them out a back road to protect them against the protracted wrath of the Stoney crowd.

Later, the Calgary papers will declare the occupation a failure because it sparked such a show of resentment from fellow Indians. But perhaps it is not so easy to judge the wins and losses in this struggle, for once more AIM has threaded an intricate path between the threat of militancy and the actual outbreak of violence, once more pulled off its tenuous balancing act among the interests vying to influence its fate. Morley is, after all, only a dress rehearsal. There is a sense of waiting once more as I drive away from it. For the largest issue of all still looms ahead on the horizon. And attention must be paid.