• Indigenous Climate Action

#JusticeforColten: We can’t talk about TRC while simultaneously sanctioning violence & hate agai

I’ve been struggling with a mix of anger, sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness juxtaposed with bittersweet pride and inspiration from the tremendous outpouring from so many that have come out calling for justice for Colten.

Colten Boushie did not deserve to die a violent death. That is the bottom line. Regardless of all of the versions of events that emerged, Colten did not deserve to die a violent death. Period. The verdict in the Stanley Boushie case does not support this. In fact, it has a message to society at large that Colten’s death was warranted, that we should be sorry for the perpetrator, and ultimately Colten got what he deserved. I find myself at a loss of how to respond to such a sick and twisted expression of pure apathy for human life.

I know there are many factors to consider in the case, but what I can’t understand is that if Colten’s death was an accident then at the very least it should have been considered gross negligence on Stanley’s part and resulted in a manslaughter charge. However, I am not a judge, a lawyer or a member of the jury and my speculations and opinions are purely that.

What I do know, is that the community identified Gerald Stanley as a known racist, whose supporters came out at the beginning of this case casting inflammatory and racially fuelled comments like, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” or “the only mistake he (Stanley) made was leaving witnesses,” surrounding the case in racism and hate. The response before and during the trial from the Indigenous community pointed out the historical and deeply entrenched racism that exists in the province and the country at large.

I want to say I am surprised by the outcome of the case, but I am not. I grew up Indigenous in Saskatchewan, living in Regina and on the Peepeekisis First Nation. Like many Saskatchewanians I spent a great deal of my time driving the rural back roads with friends and family. My family’s traditional territory and trapline was located Northern Saskatchewan near Uranium City where my family lived for many generations. Like so many other Indigenous peoples, my family was dispossessed of our lands for industrial development, in our case Uranium. Our rights, like our connections to the land, have also been so easily taken from us to support the status quo of white settler society.

One memory stands out for me - once when I was about 7 years old my family was having car troubles and I suggested we go to the farmhouse that I could see within walking distance. My mother replied to me, “They won’t help us. They are more likely to shoot at us because we are Indians, than help us.” I remember not wanting to believe my mother. Why would anyone assume that a single mother with three small children was a threat? That was over 30 years ago and, clearly, not much has changed.

As I grew older, I came to learn that my mothers warning was warranted. The color of my skin and the sounds of my voice, quickly became an indicator of how I would be treated. I learned to shed my ‘rez’ accent and find ways to disprove all of the stereotypes I heard growing up - “Indians are all drunks.” “Indians don’t know how to take care of their children.” “All Indians live on welfare.”

I was an honor roll student, a hard working mother who never utilized welfare, and was constantly measuring how much I should drink so as not to look like another drunk Indian. I always have my guard up. I am never afforded the lazy Sundays in sweatpants, no makeup and messy hair because if I were to ever go out looking like this, I would automatically look ‘rez’ and be a target for racist treatment in stores or restaurants. This is the Saskatchewan that I know. The same one that acquits a white man for murdering an Indigenous man and celebrates this crime with accolades and thousands of dollars in support on his GoFundMe.

While I may no longer be a 7 year old, stranded at the side of the road with my family and fearful of asking for help from White famers, I am still living in a world that devalues Indigenous peoples, our rights, knowledge and systems.

I deeply want to hold onto hope that change will happen, but the Stanley Boushie case is a reminder that colonial ideology states and shows that Indigenous Peoples are a blight on the land that need to be extinguished and this tenet still rings throughout our legal and judicial systems. After all, these systems were created to benefit settlers and extinguish Indigenous Peoples from the landscape and ultimately from the consciousness of white society at large. Our existence has become a reminder that the history of this country is not the beautiful peaceful treaty making story that we are all led to believe. It is one fraught with violence, wars, genocide and racism that continues today.

Yes, things are changing and moving toward justice. I can remember the Apology in 2007, and crying next to Elders who had thought they would never hear an apology or recognition for what they experienced. I remember when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 to bring the Indigenous historical experience into public consciousness. I remember when Trudeau was elected in 2015 and made bold statements to “reset Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples.” And most recently, Bill C-262, on adoption and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), passed the second reading in the House of Commons on its way to becoming law. All of this potentially paving the way for finally seeing us as dignified Peoples, rather than a sore on the ‘Canadian’ landscape. But justice isn’t something served via lip service and words, but rather by real tangible action.

It’s 2018, and Indigenous peoples are still more likely to die a violent death than any other group of people in this country. We have a failing inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls; a child welfare system that has been deemed a ‘humanitarian crisis’; hundreds of unresolved specific land claims against the federal government for breaches of Treaty rights and obligations; and a land regulatory system that continues to undermine and dispossess Indigenous Peoples of our lands and territories for resource extraction. Couple these realities with inadequate funding for all essential services on reserves and we start to understand the system is still working to erase Indigenous peoples These institutional failures that I mention are just the tip of the iceberg. Many others have written extensively on the subject and I encourage you all to read more and understand these complex issues.

The scars are deep in our communities. The collective community. White settler society needs to stand with us in order to demand the necessary change. It won’t come from a race war painting the other as the reason for our fear or hatred. It will come when we can see the injustices together and we work toward true Truth and Reconciliation, one rooted in decolonization. Decolonization is in its simplest terms a return of and connection to the land.

As an Indigenous climate justice advocate this case would seem outside of the realm of my work, but it hits so close to home. It’s a reminder that we have lost our connection to the land, to who we are a species, to our role on this sacred Earth, and that we justify murder. Whether it’s through the destruction of Mother Earth for fossil fuels and other resources exacerbating climate change, or the taking of a human life, systems of White supremacy are entrenched with individuality and single race mentality detaching humanity from our role in the sacredness of life on this planet. We are out of balance, in the atmosphere, on the lands and ultimately in the hearts and minds of humanity.

So, as the calls ring out for justice for Colten in the streets, on social media, in the news, and in the courts remember justice isn’t about one individual, its about all of us. #justiceforcolten #indigenouslivesmatter

Eriel Deranger

Executive Director

Indigenous Climate Action

#justice #indigenousrights #justiceforcolten #TRC


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