Analysis

How Idle No More helped mobilize thousands for Justice for Colten movement

The rallies and vigils that saw thousands pour into the streets across the country after a jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty of killing Colten Boushie were not by accident.
A Saskatchewan jury's decision to acquit Gerald Stanley, 56, of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie prompted anger and questions by some as to how they reached their verdict. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

The rallies and vigils that saw thousands pour into the streets across the country after a jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty of killing Colten Boushie were not by accident.

They were rooted in an infrastructure built by the Idle No More movement.

Started in 2012 and led by Indigenous women and two-spirit people, it surged back into public consciousness seeking Justice for Colten.

Stanley, 56, was charged with second-degree murder in the August 2016 death of the 22-year-old Indigenous man.

We are the Idle No More generation.- Mylan Tootoosis

"People were ready to respond not in a negative way, but in a powerful united way," Jade Tootoosis told CBC News.

Tootoosis, who is Nehiyaw from the Red Pheasant First Nation and Boushie's first cousin, has emerged as a central figure in the Justice for Colten campaign.

Jade Tootoosis, the cousin of Colten Boushie, speaks to media outside of the Court of Queen's Bench after a jury delivered a verdict of not guilty in the trial of Gerald Stanley, the farmer accused of killing the 22-year-old Indigenous man Colten Boushie, in Battleford, Feb. 9, 2018. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

The Idle No More generation

"We are the Idle No More generation. The movement has been instrumental in building the capacity of young Indigenous leaders to mobilize and organize," said Mylan Tootoosis, a close friend to the Boushie family and member of the Poundmaker Cree First Nation.

Now that we can mobilize very quickly, I think that Indigenous people need to be taken very seriously … We know what we're doing. We're not pests.- Alex Wilson

Idle No More was launched in 2012 by four women in Saskatchewan fighting changes to Bill C-45, the Conservative government's controversial omnibus budget bill that directly affects First Nations communities. They said it eroded the rights of Indigenous people, sovereignty, the land and water.

"It's these moments, like Colten Boushie, that show that work is still being done," said Idle No More co-founder and organizer Sheelah McLean.

Protesters gather in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto to protest the verdict in his murder trial of Colten Boushie who was shot on a farm in Saskatchewan on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. (Chris Donovan/The Canadian Press)

Idle No More organizer and member of the Opaskwayak Cree First Nation, Alex Wilson pointed out that for years, the movement has worked to develop a powerful, effective, and far reaching global base.

Wilson, who is also a professor in the Department of Education at the University of Saskatchewan, said there are more than 400,000 people who actively show support for the movement, with more than 40,000 Twitter followers and 150,000 people on one Facebook group. She also said there are more than 600 Idle No More individual chapters across the world.

"Now that we can mobilize very quickly, I think that Indigenous people need to be taken very seriously … We know what we're doing. We're not pests,'" she said.

Wilson said Idle No More has also helped people to hone their skills in organizing.

"Our ability to mobilize is directly tied to the presence that Idle No More has maintained for us and laid out for us as young activists and leaders looking for a better future," Mylan Tootoosis said. He gave an impassioned speech in front of a thousand supporters of the Colten Boushie family in downtown Saskatoon the day after the verdict.

Innu poet and Idle No More organizer in Quebec Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, who joined hundreds of people on the streets of Ottawa and Montreal, said she's never seen "such an effective response in less that 24 hours."

"The verdict came down on Friday night and right after, the Idle No More website listed all the rallies that were going to take place in the country the next day," she said.

A Justice for Colten GoFundMe campaign launched by Idle No More organizer Erica Violet Lee has raised $189,124 as of Feb. 25.

Ignited a passion

Jade Tootoosis attributes some of her advocacy to years of participation in Idle No More.

I'm scared. I'm scared for my kids ... We have lost so much, but yet at the same time we are incredibly strong people.- Tori  Cress

She said the movement ignited a passion in Indigenous communities that is still felt today.

"Idle No More ignited a passion and movement within people, within ourselves. That in itself gave courage, it gave strength. It just boosted that resilience especially within Indigenous people and I think that definitely contributed to the quick mobilisation and organizing of people all around the world when the verdict came out," Tootoosis said.

Violence and the need to organize

Barbara Manitowabie lays flowers on a memorial for Colten Boushie as protesters gather in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto to protest the verdict in his murder trial on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. (Chris Donovan/The Canadian Press)

Idle No More organizer Tori Cress, Anishinaabe Kwe from Beausoleil First Nation, helped organize the Justice for Colten rally in Toronto, shortly after the Stanley verdict. She said people rallied out of a need to counter violence online and otherwise.

"It is the grassroots people that have to make sure this work gets done because we have no choice, our children are dying," Cress, who has been with Idle No More since 2012, said.

"I'm scared. I'm scared for my kids ... We have lost so much, but yet at the same time we are incredibly strong people."

Jade Tootoosis said it is not a coincidence that the Idle No More movement and Justice for Colten were both launched in Saskatchewan.

"Saskatchewan is more ground zero, that's where we lost my brother, that's where everything transpired from Indigenous, to allies," Tootoosis said.

Saskatchewan is where Colten Boushie was shot on a farm near Biggar, but it's also where Indigenous trapper Leo LaChance died after being shot in 1991, outside a pawn shop owned by Carney Nerland, a man it was later learned was a white supremacist.

A 'reckoning moment'

Saskatchewan is also where police allegedly took Indigenous people to the Saskatoon city limits in the winter and abandoned them, a practice known as "starlight tours."

In 2000, two police officers were convicted of unlawful confinement after they dropped off Darrell Night on the outskirts of town on a frigid winter night, leaving him to make his way back on his own.

"It's a reckoning moment. The Justice for Colten era is definitely a new generation. We are experiencing the Canadian legal system and the failure of the Canadian colonial project," Mylan Tootoosis said.

Jade Tootoosis agrees.

"This road won't end today, it won't end tomorrow, and it won't even end with the trial. It will keep going past that."

Colten Boushie's uncle Alvin Baptiste raises an eagle's wing as demonstrators gathered outside of the courthouse in North Battleford, Sask., on Feb. 10, 2018. (Matt Smith/The Canadian Press)

About the Author

Omayra Issa

Journalist

Omayra Issa is a Saskatchewan journalist who works for Radio-Canada. To contact Omayra, email omayra.issa@radio-canada.ca. Follow Omayra on Twitter @OmayraIssa.