His native name was Dacajeweiah, or Splitting the Sky, a name that John Boncore took to heart through a lifetime of political activism.
A Chase resident, Boncore, 61, was found dead on Wednesday on a path on the Adams Lake Indian Reserve near his home. He is believed to have fallen on cement steps and may have suffered a blow to the head.
Chase RCMP handed over the sudden-death investigation to coroner Terry Dixon.
“We don’t suspect foul play,” said Const. Jonathan Spooner. “We found nothing criminal or suspicious.”
Results of an autopsy won’t be known for some time, said Boncore’s wife, Sandra Bruderer.
Boncore is also survived by his six children, five grandchildren and an extended family back east. As well, he leaves a considerable legacy of civil disobedience that earned him recognition around the world.
Also known as John Hill, or Dac for short, Boncore will be remembered as an individual who stood up for all that he saw as tyranny and injustice. He shouted from the ramparts for native peoples, principally, but also for humanity as a whole. He made headlines four years ago as the man who was arrested trying to make a citizen’s arrest of U.S. President George W. Bush on a visit to Calgary four years ago.
More recently, Boncore had galvanized native resistance in northern B.C. to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
“Believe it or not, a lot of people in Alberta are very concerned about the pipeline,” said Larry McKillop, a Calgary friend. “John was a bit of a hero to us.”
“He was never cut and dried,” Bruderer said on Friday.
According to a biography penned a decade ago by John Steinbach, Boncore’s early life sowed the seeds of his activist spirit. He was born in New York City of Mohawk/Cree and Italian-American parents. His father, a painter, and 11 other co-workers died in 1958 after they were sent into a storage tank at U.S. Rubber without respirators. The family was left destitute. Boncore and his five siblings were forcibly removed from their mother and sent into foster care.
Boncore found it degrading and oppressive, and was soon branded as incorrigible. He wound up living in the street. He robbed a store in desperation and was sentenced to four years in prison on his first conviction.
At 19, he landed in Attica Prison, notorious for brutality and overcrowding, and he became the leader of the bloodiest prison revolt in U.S. history. Despite a lack of evidence, Boncore was sentenced to another 20 years and narrowly escaped execution over the death of a prison guard. He survived several assassination attempts on the inside before being pardoned in 1979.
Boncore became active in the anti-nuclear and American Indian movements in the 1980s and ’90s. It would take a book to describe all of his exploits, and he wrote one with Bruderer a few years ago. It’s called From Attica to Gustafsen Lake. He was one of the sundancers caught in a standoff with police near 100 Mile House in 1995.
He was also an actor in recent years with roles in the TV series Men In Trees and Da Vinci’s City Hall,, and in films including The Last Rites of Ransom Pride and Deepwater, shot in Clearwater in 2005.
The man had a knack for uniting people in resistance to authority.
"The thing about it, I'd been a public speaker for 32 years,” he told The Daily News in 2006. “I'd spoken at all of the major colleges, at Yale and Harvard. I'd had thousands of public speaking engagements. I was able to bring people to their feet. I'm a fiery deliverer."