“They think they know about Indians,” she says, of non-Indigenous Canada. “They have this belief, that’s taught to them from birth, that everything Native people face is our own choice.” - Chelsea Vowel, Métis educator and writer
"You can see that the racial tension is basically a tinder box in Saskatchewan," - Robert Innes, professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan
“[Saskatchewan] Premier Brad Wall naively pointed out that racism has no place in Saskatchewan when in fact, it's a part of this provinces fabric for generations.” – Doug Cuthand, author, journalist and member of the Little Pine First Nation
The Story of Colten Boushie
On August 9, 2016 five youth riding in a vehicle in rural Saskatchewan pulled into a farm looking for help after they got a flat tire. Instead, their vehicle was attacked by a farmer with a loaded gun. One of the youths was shot and killed on the spot, this young 22-year-old First Nations man’s name was Colten Boushie.
In a CBC website article, journalist Devin Heroux outlines the position of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) from their press release dated August 10, 2016. Heroux writes, "According to RCMP, five people were in a vehicle that entered a farmyard in the Rural Municipality of Glenside. The owners of the property did not know the people in the vehicle. A verbal exchange happened and a shot was fired, striking Boushie. He was pronounced dead at the scene."
However the RCMP release also alludes to these youth being criminals. It states, "One adult male [Gerald Stanley] associated to the property was arrested by police at the scene without incident. Three occupants from the vehicle, including two females (one being a youth) and one adult male were taken into custody as part of a related theft investigation. Another male youth is being sought." In the end no charges were laid against any of the youth.
Colten Boushie’s friend, Eric Meechance, who was in the car with him that fateful day, has been speaking out and making sure reporters hear his version of events. Meechance explains that the five youth had been swimming and on their way back to the Red Pheasant First Nation got a flat tire. In the vehicle was Colten, Eric, their girlfriends and another male friend.
Journalist Bryn Levy reported Eric Meechance's story to CKOM News Talk 360:
""All of a sudden some guy, he just came out and he just smashed our windshield," he said.
From there, Meechance said his friend tried to drive away.
"He couldn't really see because the windshield was cracked, it was all spidered across," he said.
Meechance said they hit a vehicle parked in the yard and that's when he and the driver got out and took off running. Meechance said as far as he knew, Boushie and the two girlfriends were still in the car at that point.
He said he was still running when the man allegedly opened fire.
"We were maybe like 10, 15 feet from the vehicle and I just heard a shot go off -- boom," he said.
Meechance said he heard more shots as he scrambled for cover, passing a woman who he said had been mowing the lawn at the home.
"I just ran past her and I just ran right to the bush and then all of a sudden there was a STARS air ambulance flying over me," he said.
Meechance said he was picked up several minutes later by a police canine unit some distance from the Stanley property.
"I just started walking on the road because I had nothing to hide, you know? I knew the cops were coming."
He said he only learned after being arrested that Boushie, 22, had died after being shot.
Meechance said he was speaking out because of accounts alleging a confrontation with Stanley. He said he wanted to make it clear he and his friends didn't go to Stanley's farm to cause trouble."
Farmer Gerald Stanley, 54, has been charged with second-degree murder, he pled "not guilty" in court on August 18, 2016 and was released on bail for only $10,000. Scott Spencer, Stanley's lawyer explained in a statement: “The circumstances of the incident are not as simple as some media reports have portrayed,” the statement continued, “Although the rampant speculation and misinformation is frustrating, it is not the place for, or reasonable to expect, the Stanley family to correct the public record.” While it is true that there has been a publication ban on court hearings, and Gerald Stanley has not presented his account of events to the media, it is pretty clear that Colten Boushie was killed because of deep rooted racism in the area he grew up in, and the decision of Stanley to shoot first and ask questions later.
If there was any doubt that Colten Boushie’s death is related to racism and unjust stereotypes against Indigenous people in Canada, the discussions on social media cleared up the doubt pretty quick.
Canada’s Racists Respond
Headlines across Canada expressed clearly how there was an explosion of racism towards Boushie and his First Nations Community on social media following his murder. The headlines read:
August 19: "DIGGING DEEPER: Investigating social media’s racist side in wake of fatal Biggar, Sask. shooting" (Global News)
August 20: "Social media comments could be criminal: Mounties" (Toronto Sun)
August 20: "Colten Boushie Shooting: Online Comments Can Be Criminal, Sask. Police Warn" (Huffington Post)
August 21: "Sask. councillor regrets social media post about Colten Boushie shooting death, says wife" (CBC News)
August 22: "Colten Boushie’s death continues to cause social media firestorm" (Global News)
The most widely cited racist vitriol was the comment of Ben Kautz, a town councillor for Browning, Saskatchewan. He posted publicly in the “Saskatchewan Farmers Group” Facebook, which is no longer publicly searchable on Facebook. Kautz wrote, "In my mind, his only mistake was leaving witnesses." Who is Kautz referring to? Other posts make it evident that he was saying the shooter, Gerald Stanley's only mistake was leaving live young witness after his crime. Kautz is now being pushed to resign for these clearly bigoted comments. However, his wife tried to justify his comments to CBC saying that he wrote them in the heat of the moment and that their family farm had recently been robbed of tools and gas. As if all robbers deserve to be killed and anyone who looks like a robber deserves to be killed, and finally all witnesses who may or may not be involved deserve to be killed too. Seems well thought out.
The second Facebook comment that was widely shared, but not credited to anyone in particular was similarly inciting violence and hate, “He [Stanley] should have shot all five and been given a medal.” While these types of comments are offensive, they are also dangerous. In fact there were so many racist calls for violence against Indigenous people online that RCMP and Brad Wall, the premier of the province of Saskatchewan had to send out warnings reminding people that online threats of violence are criminally punishable acts. However, so far, there are no news stories about any of these cases being pursued.
At the same time that victim Colten Boushie’s family was demanding “Justice for Colten” and trying to raise money online to pay for his funeral, the family of Gerald Stanley was organizing a steak BBQ fundraiser, to mobilize in his defence and apparently support his wife. The “Help Mrs. Stanley of Biggar, Sk.” GoFundMe account has now been removed based on the website’s policy to not host campaigns which are funding people facing criminal charges. It is clear Stanley is trying to set himself up as the victim, whether with vicious online ‘supporters’; his lawyers statement; his “not guilty” plea; or the above-mentioned GoFundMe campaign for his wife.
Brenda Macdougall, chair in Métis research for the Department of Geography at the University of Ottawa wrote an interesting article for the Globe & Mail Newspaper titled, "After Boushie: It’s time for honest talk about racism in Saskatchewan." In her article Macdougall cites more of these dangerous online comments and attempts to explain their roots and causes by linking Boushie’s death to the Black Lives Matter movement, but maybe not in the way you would expect.
She writes, “Saskatchewan is connected to the events in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, New York, Chicago, and Milwaukee where black men were killed by police officers. But the comparison to be made isn’t about the deaths, but rather the narrative of white victimhood. This sense of white victimization were reflected in social media posts about the Boushie case, such as: “Time to go all cowboy and Indian on these useless leeches in society that live off of everyone else,” or “the very sad truth is that being ‘white’ we can be discriminated upon more than any other race and no one faces any repercussions,” or, “Canada has millions of hard working people who get up everyday and work their guts out contributing to society while … we also have a million indigenous people many who contribute absolutely nothing to Canadian society.” The traditional power and privilege reserved for white men is gradually eroding, and being replaced by more genuine participation and inclusion of historically marginalized peoples. The vile comments made in the Boushie case, and others, betray a sense that the writers can no longer count on the structures of the state to support them economically, politically and socially; as their privilege diminishes, they respond with racist and sexist hatred, while proclaiming their own victimization." This white victimization, as discussed by Mcdougall, is very dangerous. It attempts to re-write the history of Canada and paint white Canadians as the victims of our current social, political and economic set up. This can be quickly disproved with statistics, facts and even anecdotal evidence.
Aboriginal Youth in Canada
The truth is that young Indigenous people in Canada, like Colten Boushie, are facing an enormous uphill battle against systemic racism and inequality. Boushie was a leader in his community, a loving son, brother, uncle, nephew and grandson, who was training to become a firefighter. He may or may not have been an exceptional member of his community, either way he was loved and cherished and did nothing to deserve being murdered at the hands of a vigilantly racist.
According to Statistics Canada, First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples now make up at least 4.3% of Canada's population of 36 million. This marks a shift in demographics as First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples made up about 2.8% of Canada's population in 1996. Indigenous people in Canada, whether First Nations, Métis and/or Inuit are also some of the youngest peoples in Canada, almost half of their populations are under the age of 26. This means that Indigenous youth make up 7% of Canada's youth demographic.
While Aboriginal youth make up 7% of the youth living today in Canada, they make up 41% of youth who are entering Canada’s justice system, according to a recent data published by Canada’s Justice Department.
According to CTV News, "A 2000 report from the Canadian Institute of Health, suicides among First Nations youth (aged 15 to 24) was about five to six times higher than non-aboriginal youth in Canada."
These shocking statistics are not because Indigenous youth in Canada are somehow less capable or inherently more depressed or prone to crime and violence. These numbers come from hundreds of years of colonial history in Canada that has attempted to destroy Indigenous people, their culture and their right to determine their own future.
Young people like Colten Bushie are being cut down every day in Canada, but usually in much less obvious ways than the horrible violence that Colten and his friends faced on the farm of Gerald Stanley on August 9, 2016. It is time to change course in Canada, to empower Indigenous youth rather than supress them, as has been the government of Canada’s official policy since its creation.
Voices for Change Demand Justice for Colten Boushie
Since Boushie’s murder his community has been mobilizing demanding “Justice for Colten”. His family members have spoken out about what a great friend and family member he was and how he will be remembered for many years to come.
Vice Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Kimberly Jonathan, outlined for the CBC why it is so important that Colten Boushie's name doesn't disappear from national headlines, "There is a lot at stake here. Not only for the family who will always miss Colten. But also for all of Saskatchewan and Canada."
We need to keep up the pressure on the government, court system and RCMP, all institutions which have a despicable and unjust history towards Aboriginal people in Canada. People across Canada need to continue taking a public stand and demand "Justice for Colten." It is only by raising our voices in solidarity and joining the calls for justice and action by Indigenous people across Canada that we will build towards the better future Indigenous youth need and deserve.
Follow Tamara Hansen on Twitter:@THans01
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