American Indian Fugitive Seeks Political Refugee Status in Canada
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ Robert Satiacum, a former tribal leader and convicted racketeer, hopes this week to become the first American Indian to win political refugee status in Canada.
The former chairman of the 1,400-member Puyallup Tribe of Tacoma, Wash., has been jailed in Canada since Nov. 9, 1983, when he was captured in Saskatchewan. He was protected by Canadian Indians before his capture.
A year earlier, while free on $250,000 bail, he fled over the U.S. border as he awaited sentencing on racketeering, arson and murder conspiracy charges related to his business empire on Puyallup reservation lands in Tacoma.
The 58-year-old Satiacum, who could be sentenced to life in prison, is fighting deportation proceedings on the grounds that his prosecution was politically motivated.
He told The Associated Press in an interview Monday from the maximum security wing of Oakalla prison outside Vancouver that he feared for his life if he is sent back.
″With their vindictive attitude, there’s no end to it until they bury you,″ he said.
He alleges that big business interests were threatened by his ideas for Indian economic independence.
Satiacum, who championed land claims and salmon fishing rights for northwest Indians, was a prominent athlete in his youth and harbors a dream for a new life in Canada.
″I’d like to get back to playing golf again and spend my last few years as a pro. I was shooting scratch before this all happened, and they now have a super-senior circuit,″ he said. ″I think I’ve spent enough time on the war front.″
Satiacum got into trouble in 1970 when he began selling cigarettes on the reservation without charging state tax. He claimed an 1854 treaty between the U.S. federal government and his tribe protected Indian ″free trade.″
He expanded his business into discount gas stations, a liquor store, a nightclub, a gambling house and other enterprises. He planned an oil refinery, a bank, a hydroelectric project and a free-trade zone on the reservation lands.
U.S. authorities used a federal law against organized crime to file racketeering charges against Satiacum, with 42 indictments for transporting cigarettes without paying tax, two counts of conspiring to attempt murder, two counts of burning out competitors, one count of bribery and one of illegal gambling. A jury found him guilty and his assets were seized.
Satiacum said he was innocent. ″If I had done it just to take the money and run, I don’t think I’d be sitting here today,″ he said.
He has relied on a succession of volunteer lawyers in Vancouver, helped by donations from both sides of the border.
His latest lawyer, Lyn Crompton, said she was optimistic a three-member Immigration Appeal Board would grant Satiacum’s request after a weeklong hearing.
″This man has been framed,″ she said, adding she would build her case on wrongful conviction.
Another former Puyallup tribal chairman, Ramona Bennett, was named as the target of the alleged murder conspiracy. Ms. Bennett, Satiacum’s former lover, has supported his fight. She told the Vancouver hearing he was innocent of the charge.
In 1985, Canada’s immigration minister rejected Satiacum’s original bid for refugee status. The government says the case would have been decided long ago if Satiacum had not used delaying tactics.
″Believe me, we would like to bring this case to a conclusion but the problem for the delay is not with us,″ said Immigration Department spokesman Jean-Guy Boissoneault.