Tag Archives: Canada

Colten Boushie’s Death Must Have a Purpose

For Indigenous people, change is often a matter of life or death

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 30, 2018 • Current Events

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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.

Biggar, Saskatchewan

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.

 

The Debate About Indian Residential Schools Misses the Point

It’s never been about good and bad experiences. It’s always been about Canada’s Indian Problem.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 25, 2018 • Current Events

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A page from the TRC report, “The Survivors Speak.”

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ENATOR LYNN BEYAK laments that the histories of Indian residential school focus on the negative, and she has a point. A story about the abuse of a child does tend to capture one’s attention. So far as I’m aware, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission never once intervened mid-testimony to change the subject. “Yes, yes, we get it. But tell us about the knitting and the maths—you know, the good stuff.”

The topic of whether or not good things happened in the Indian residential schools, and whether they are sufficiently documented, is a mischaracterization of the debate we are now seeing. But while I’m on the subject, let me state once again that good things happened in the residential schools. Most scholarly sources describe them, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose reports include warm tributes to beloved teachers. (Every time residential school apologists claim that the TRC tells only the negative stories, they reveal their ignorance.) My own book, Residential Schools: With the Words and Images of Survivors, has entire chapters on movie and dance night, laughter, friendship, hijinks, and so on. My co-author, Larry Loyie, fondly recalled the teacher who encouraged him to write, and he had some fond and funny stories about his residential school days. He was however a writer of books, not of payroll ledgers, and never indulged the question of whether the arithmetic of good and bad arrived at a sum which could please critics like Beyak. We presented the whole truth, as best we could.

Indian and Eskimo Schools

Well, you can’t please everyone, but it’s useful to understand the character of a disagreement.The Indian residential school debate is and has always been about the right of one ethnic or cultural group to dominate and absorb another, and by doing so to appropriate and benefit from land and resources. The children, put into residential schools, often hundreds or even thousands of miles from home, could have learned English and grammar and grown up knowing the love of their mothers and fathers and grandparents. They could have got hockey lessons and a normal childhood. But the whole point of the Indian Residential School System as a system was to sever the bonds of family, so Indians could be turned into Christian Canadians free of the influence of their kin. Did Canada have the moral right, and moral obligation even, to do this? Does it have it now? Welcome to the real debate, ladies and gentleman.

The Let’s Focus On The Positive history of Indian residential schools was written, many times over, by women’s church auxiliaries, missionary societies, school administrators, Indian Agents, and government bureaucrats. Indian Affairs wrote it every year, in their annual reports. The folks who ran and oversaw the schools knew much, much more about them than today’s armchair apologists. When they declared the system a wise and benevolent success, math had nothing to do with it. Duncan Campbell Scott was aware that children were dying unnecessarily in the schools, of diseases caused by overcrowding and insufficient nutrition. The math, in this case, was not on his side. “But this alone,” he wrote to an Indian Agent, in 1910, “does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian Problem.” These folks knew what the debate was really about, and they made no effort to hide it. They were after a final solution of the Indian Problem, and no amount of bad news was going to make a difference.

I didn’t write this article to change anyone’s mind, because I’m not delusional. I wrote it to clarify. It was my day job for well over a decade to educate the public about the Indian Residential School System, and when I started, in the 1990s, most Canadians hadn’t even heard of it. Today there’s a consensus that the Indian Residential School System was not good, but a chunk of Canadian society can be depended upon to never take up that view. There are at present some thousands and maybe even millions of Duncan Campbell Scotts, looking forward to a day when there are no Indians in Canada and, as a consequence of this, no Indian Problem. There are also folks pained by the lost prestige of Mother Church, or by blemishes on the noble project of Empire. There are professional contrarians, skeptical of every affront to the status quo, a bag of human sand stubbornly anchoring the Old Order. I can’t explain the motives of every person who insists the residential schools were good, but I can ask them if they think Canada was right to attempt a wholesale assimilation of Indigenous people, and if they think Canada should stay on that course.

One Day There Will Be An Indigenous Prime Minister

And I couldn’t care less.

✎  Wayne K. Spear | January 23, 2018 • Politics

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OMEWHERE ON THE INTERNET there’s a video of Bill Wilson telling Pierre Trudeau that Wilson’s two children, “for some misguided reason,” want to be Prime Minister. His children, he adds, are both women. It’s worth a watch. Trudeau, not surprisingly, has a clever retort and draws approving laughter. And there it would have ended, for most who went one-to-one with Trudeau the Elder—but Bill Wilson is not most people, as his riposte (and Trudeau’s telling reaction) show.

I met one of Wilson’s daughters years ago at an event where she gave a speech, and I left with no ambiguity concerning her ambition. She was going somewhere, probably a place with a name that rhymes with Schmottawa. Bill Wilson hadn’t said only that she wanted to be Prime Minister, he said lawyer as well, and as it happened Justice Minister and Attorney General were in her future. In 2015 Jody Wilson-Raybould became the first Indigenous person to be named to this position, in a year when a record number of Indigenous Members of Parliament were headed for Ottawa. She may yet become Prime Minister, adding another first to her account, to the cheering of many Indigenous people. But I will not be one of them.

Everyone remembers the firsts, or at least they should. Firsts are history’s way of provisioning a word to the wise. The gates parted for the reception of Canada’s first Indigenous Attorney General just as the first Inuk cabinet minister, Leona Aglukkaq, was being told by her constituents not to let the door hit her backside on the way out. Some of my Indigenous friends were given to rapture when Wab Kinew became leader of the Manitoba NDP, as if every time a charismatic Onkwehonwe wins a vote, an Indigenous angel gets its wings. But who knows, maybe Kinew will be a brilliant champion not only of his constituents broadly, but of Indigenous people in particular. Or, another Leona Aglukkaq. The point is that you should cheer only after the points are on the board and not at the first sighting of the ball.

This week St. Anne’s Indian Residential School was in the news, again. For years Canada denied the existence of evidence disclosing abuses, until an OPP investigation made this claim untenable. The government refused to release documents in its possession, with the result that former residential school students could not prove their claims of mistreatment and deprivation. (St. Anne’s is the residential school most known for the electric chair used by its administrators on the children in their “care.”) When the government was at last forced to release their files, Justice Canada fought efforts of survivors to re-open their cases, and the government won. Now Canada wants them to pay the government’s legal costs.

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Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous Minister of Justice, superintends the administration of matters such as the preceding. In this capacity she has prevailed over a small and powerless group of Indigenous people who say they are victims of abuses in an Indian residential school, and that the evidence which proves it, and which was long hidden by government, is now available and should be considered. Although much of the St. Anne’s story happened under former governments, these late decisions, to shut down the Independent Assessment Process and to pursue government costs from the claimants, belong to the administration of Mr. Trudeau.

Beginning in January of 2016, or in other words with the onset of the Trudeau regime, the Attorney General has so far spent over $700,000 fighting a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that says Canada discriminates against Indigenous children, by providing health and social services funding below the amounts allotted to their non-Indigenous counterparts. It’s the residential school system all over again: Indigenous children suffer and in some cases die, and what does the government do? It lawyers up, naturally. The government has lost its appeals and is in violation of three compliance orders, and with each passing month the legal bill goes up, all in the service of denying equitable care to Indigenous children.

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Federal Justice Minister Jody-Wilson Raybould was asked to provide the legal costs spent fighting a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order. (ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Today, from sea to shining sea, frustrated Indigenous people resort to fighting Canada in a colonial judicial system whose face is the mottled Kwakwaka’wakw visage of Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Many of them are going to lose, and if the Minister of Justice has her way then Canada will prevail at every turn, because it’s her sworn duty to make it so. Under Section IX.128 of the Constitution Act, every Member of Parliament (and every senator and every member of a provincial parliament) must “take and subscribe” an Oath, stating, “I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.” Keep her faith and true allegiance in your mind, my Indigenous friends, when you hear this servant to Her Majesty talk about the “Indigenous-Crown relationship.” And for the love of god don’t cheer when she, or someone like her, for some misguided reason, becomes Prime Minister.

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First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada versus the Attorney General. Cindy Blackstock took Canada to court over discriminatory policies, and won. Canada refuses to comply with the ruling to this day.