Wartime DilemmasImages, Peacetime Wounds: The Media and the Gustafsen Lake Standoff


277 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8551-2
DDC 302.23'089'979071175




Reviewed by David Mardiros

David Mardiros is a lawyer and anthropological consultant in Terrace,
British Columbia.


Although not as well known to most Canadians as the events that occurred
near Montreal in 1990, the conflict that took place in a remote part of
central British Columbia in mid-1995 has much to tell us about how the
print, radio, and television media portray disputes involving Aboriginal
people and the larger society. Sandra Lambertus argues that as with Oka,
many lasting perceptions of the conflict at Gustafsen Lake were a
product of selective and calculated media portrayals of the events.

The book begins with a very useful history of Aboriginal disputes in
Canada and a description of how Aboriginal peoples have been represented
in the media. While much of what follows is a chronological account of
the standoff and how events developed and unfolded, by recounting events
as they happened the author builds dramatic tension in a way that
vividly illustrates how members of the media can be seduced by the drama
and excitement of events, sometimes to the detriment of their
professional objectivity.

Using the single term “media” promotes a tendency to overlook the
commercial realities of the making and reporting of news. One of the
book’s strengths lies in its description of the tensions that exist
between reporters. As Lambertus points out, various media outlets were
in competition with each other for access to exclusive interviews and
vantage points to events, and this competition led to their co-option by
the RCMP in many cases.

Although the lessons that Lambertus shows us can be learned from
Gustafsen Lake—first among them a requirement that media coordination
be taken out of the hands of local detachments and the need for
increased and continuing education of RCMP personnel in the areas of
Aboriginal issues, history, and culture—her analysis of conflicts that
have occurred since 1995 is not encouraging. Change will likely be long
in coming and, as a result, this book will be of continuing interest to
those interested in race relations, law enforcement, and the role of the
media in democratic societies.


Lambertus, Sandra., “Wartime DilemmasImages, Peacetime Wounds: The Media and the Gustafsen Lake Standoff,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30588.