For Indigenous people, change is often a matter of life or death
✎ Wayne K. Spear | January 30, 2018 • Current Events
CMP ROOFTOP SNIPERS were at-the-ready when Gerald Stanley arrived in North Battleford last April for his three-day preliminary hearing. There was drumming and a show of support for the family of Colten Boushie but no violence. There’s been no violence of any kind in the months since this Indigenous Rodney King (as some have called Boushie) was shot in the back of the head while sitting in a car stalled on Stanley’s Biggar, Saskatchewan property. The family has made it clear that what they want is not blood but justice and change.
Colten’s death must have a purpose. While his death revealed a deep divide that exists between many within this province, it has also brought us here to this courthouse, where we could come together and ask for a fair trial for everyone involved. We, Colten’s family, hope that this preliminary hearing and the issues that it raises about our relationships with each other will generate further discussion and dialogue to help us bring our communities together.
It’s an understatement to characterise this sentiment as dignified, but then what isn’t an understatement when speaking of confronting the death of a child. As the family were grieving their dear lost son and grandson and brother and nephew, strangers were posting hateful comments on social media. The rooftop snipers, presumably deployed to snuff an incipient Indian uprising, turned out to be unnecessary. But there was rabble rousing and racial hatred to be shot down in the other column of the deep divide ledger, so the Premier stepped in to denounce racists and their racism. Before long a Browning municipal councillor named Ben Kautz had resigned over a posting on the Saskatchewan Farmer’s Facebook group, where a number of other mean-spirited comments could also be found. As if losing Colten wasn’t bad enough, random citizens heaped contempt on the family’s pain, and still the family called for healing.
There are good reasons why Indigenous people call for healing and peace at times like this. The first and perhaps most compelling is that we need healing and peace. At roughly five percent of the population, Indigenous people are not going to win a contest of force against Canada, and we know it. But there also isn’t an appetite for perpetuating the hatred and violence that has been commonly experienced by Indigenous people, for generations, whether in the residential schools or on the street. Far too many of us have become experts in trauma, intergenerational violence, and hate. We don’t just want something better, we need it, in a life-or-death way.
Last week the RCMP cleared themselves of a charge of misconduct made by the family of Colten Boushie. The officers can’t recall doing or saying the things that witnesses affirm that they did and said, in the course of their investigation of the Baptiste home. At the time of Colten Boushie’s death the RCMP issued a press release suggesting he was connected to an investigation of property theft. Then the RCMP allowed the 2003 Ford Escape in which Boushie was shot—a critical piece of evidence—to go to the salvage yard before it had undergone forensic (blood spatter) anaysis, thereby jeopardizing the integrity of any later trial. “The RCMP were, best case scenario, negligent,” the family lawyer Chris Murphy told a journalist. Still the RCMP seem to think they have done nothing wrong, which apparently means that they haven’t.
Next Spring Gerald Stanley will go to court, where he will face a charge of second-degree murder. In the meantime his rural Saskatchewan house has been put up for sale as he prepares for a new life either inside or ouside of prison. He has expressed regret for the death of Colten Boushie, just as Ben Kautz has expressed regret for his Facebook post, just as the RCMP has said it’s sorry for offences taken in the course of its faultless investigation. The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) meanwhile agitates for a broadened right to defend property against trespass. The two solitudes of Saskatchewan, the reserve and the farm, remain as estranged as ever, and Indigenous people everywhere hold their breath in anticipation of a trial they don’t dare allow themselves to believe will be fair and impartial.
Colten Boushie is gone and the white cattle ranchers found guilty of property theft of their neighbours remain alive and well in the community, despite their crimes. There is indeed a deep divide, deep as the chasm between life and death.