author: annie trussler | op-ed editor
In 2016, in North Battleford, 22-year-old, Indigenous Colten Boushie lost his life.
In 2016, in North Battleford, 22-year-old, Indigenous Colten Boushie lost his life. A white farmer named Gerald Stanley killed him via gunshot. Boushie was allegedly attempting to steal the farmer’s truck, and Stanley took action, claiming the gun fired by accident. This past week, Stanley has been acquitted, inspiring outrage across the country.
In the wake of this verdict, I managed to reach out to Michelle Stewart, a professor and attendee of the trial, and Robyn Pitawanakwat, community member and organizer, for their opinions and thoughts. Below are their interviews.
Pitawanakwat is an Anishnaabe person and a member of Whitefish River First Nation. Robyn grew up in a family focused on social justice and labour organizing with her mother Mary Pitawanakwat and her mom’s partner Bob Hughes. In the past few years, Robyn has emerged as a key organizer in Regina including working with Voices for Justice and Police Accountability, Colonialism No More, Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism, and the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund for Children as well as independent mutual aid efforts and general rabble rousing.
As a mother of three Indigenous children, Colten’s treatment in Saskatchewan and in the Saskatchewan justice system is a foreshadowing of what I can expect for my own children. Through Colonialism No More (CNM) and Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism (SCAR) we have been holding vigils and raising funds for the Boushie/Baptiste family. I attended the jury selection and some of the proceedings and the closing arguments.
I was in Regina having just driven back from Battleford, standing with friends and strangers as the verdict came in. For those of us that were following the case it was truly devastating and to be surrounded by strangers laughing and joking was surreal; it has continued to feel this way as I realize that many (seemingly progressive) people are unaffected by this outcome and are completely comfortable in that. At the same time we now have others openly commenting about how Colten “deserved it.” There are many people in our communities who are emboldened now to openly express the racist sentiments that they have always held. Those same people are happy to let you know that they think most Indigenous folks deserve the same fate as Colten.
Anti-Indigenous racism is what created this country. You can only create a state on top of someone else’s government if you intend to exclude them and remove them from their land and resources. It isn’t just the racist policies like the Indian Act that reflect this. It is also in the implementation of policies in different ways for Indigenous people. Indigenous people will often get the strictest implementations of a policy while non-Indigenous citizens do not.
Canada is seen to be a “safe-haven” by those who benefit from an unbalanced system.
Stewart is a settler who works on variety of social justice issues including migrant right and racialized access to justice. Michelle works with a number of groups including: Colonialism No More, Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism, Voices for Justice and Police Accountability, Regina Public Interest Research Group and No One is Illegal. She lives on Treaty 4 territory and teaches about social justice and advocacy at the University of Regina. Her research focuses on how disabilities are taken up in the justice system in a settler state
How do you know Colten/ connection to case?
I am a settler in Treaty Four Territory. I didn’t know Colten and have only met some of his family members because of the trial. My connection to the case is through solidarity efforts with groups like Colonialism No More. We have done a number of rallies and/or vigils surrounding his case and when the case went to trial we joined others that visited from Regina to show the family support (visible and less visible) inside and outside the courthouse.
How did you feel when verdict was read? What did you feel?
I was there the night the verdict was read. What was most striking was that many people thought for a moment that perhaps justice might be served. The jury had asked to review testimony. It seemed that they were putting second degree murder or manslaughter on the table. We knew for at least 22 minutes that there was a verdict and then we waited for the announcement at 7:30. From the moment the judge offered opening comments, I could feel concern wash over me. It was only because they asked to hear testimony again that I thought another verdict was possible – I was not alone in that. When the verdict was read the room filled with cries of despair and horror and Gerald Stanley leapt out of the jury box. He was whisked away into police protection. The verdict as read by a white foreman was the culmination of every factor in the case. It was the result of a case that allowed for an all-white jury selection, for non-experts to be called as witnesses (delivering anecdotes that were 40 years old), for the victim to be treated as a criminal, for other Indigenous witnesses to be torn apart on the stand, all the while Gerald Stanley’s lawyer had a casual and nearly joking relationship with Stanley on the stand. This was a murder trial. The verdict has only emboldened racists to get louder. It is time for those folks that are not politically active (by choice) to get political. I am speaking directly to settlers. It is always challenging being Indigenous in this country; it is now terrifying. Colten Boushie was shot in the back of the head at close range and Gerald Stanley was acquitted. That should give everyone pause and instigate a response.
How prominent is anti-Indigenous racism in Canada? What policies reflect this? Why do people deem Canada to be a “safe haven” away from bigotry?
It is very prominent. You can look at every single sector from health and justice to social services and education to see disparities. Policies like the Indian Act perpetuate systemic racism; every day micro-aggressions are delivered with impunity. People that believe Canada is a “safe haven” are white and privileged people.