Chase resident John Boncore tried to arrest George Bush, and led the 1972 Attica Prison riot
His native name was Dacajeweiah, or Splitting the Sky, and it was a name that John Boncore took to heart through his lifetime of political activism.
Boncore, 61, was found dead last week on a path on the Adams Lake Indian Reserve near his home in Chase, near Salmon Arm. He is believed to have fallen on cement steps and may have suffered a blow to the head.
Also known as John Hill, or Dac, Boncore will be remembered as a man who stood up for all that he saw as tyranny and injustice. He principally shouted from the ramparts for native peoples, and made headlines four years ago as the man who was charged after trying to make a citizen’s arrest of U.S. President George W. Bush on a visit to Calgary.
More recently, Boncore galvanized native resistance to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline 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.”
According to a biography written 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 foster care degrading and oppressive, and was soon branded as incorrigible. He wound up living in the street, robbed a store in desperation and was sentenced to four years in prison on his first conviction.
At age 19 he landed in Attica Prison, notorious for brutality and overcrowding. There he became the leader of the bloodiest prison revolt in U.S. history in 1971 — 43 people were killed, with 29 inmates and 10 hostages shot during the retaking of the prison by authorities. Boncore was sentenced to another 20 years and narrowly escaped execution over the death of a prison guard, and survived several assassination attempts on the inside before being pardoned in 1979.
He continued his activism in the U.S., and was active in the anti-nuclear and American Indian movements in the 1980s and ’90s. In 1993, Bonocore was invited to a conference in Edmonton to speak about native American sovereignty. It was there that he met Cree woman Sandra Bruderer, whom he married.
Bonocore told his story in The Autobiography of Splitting the Sky: From Attica to Gustafsen Lake, which he wrote with Bruderer a few years ago.
Bonocore 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 The Last Rites of Ransom Pride and Deepwater, shot in Clearwater in 2005.
Boncore is survived by Bruderer, six children, and five grandchildren.