Red Pheasant residents hope Colten Boushie case dispels misconceptions

Some wonder whether Colten Boushie can accomplish in death what other Red Pheasant Cree Nation members worked toward their entire lives — reconciliation. It was one year ago that the 22-year-old was shot and died on a rural property.

Feast today to mark 1st anniversary of Colten Boushie's death

Red Pheasant elder Reg Bugler stands beside his favourite painting by his late friend, Allen Sapp. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Chief Porcupine and his brother, Red Pheasant, tried.

So did painter Allen Sapp. Ditto Canada's first Indigenous cop, Alex Wuttunee Decoteau.

But Colten Boushie may accomplish in death what these and other Red Pheasant Cree Nation members worked toward their entire lives — reconciliation.

That's the hope of Red Pheasant members who are preparing for today's feast marking a year since Boushie was fatally shot. They hope the bright light of national attention will dispel negative stereotypes and unify this deeply divided region.
Former Red Pheasant Cree Nation chief Gerald Wuttunee hopes the stereotypes about First Nations people will be dispelled when people learn about Allen Sapp, Alex Decoteau and other band members. (Jason Warick/CBC)

"We've been given a notorious reputation, but they have a misconception of what this reserve is all about," elder Reg Bugler told CBC News.

"Society is not educated about Red Pheasant band members. They've made significant contributions to society. They need recognition."

The story begins in 1876, when Chief Porcupine (Wuttunee) didn't agree with the terms of Treaty Six. But with the great buffalo herds eradicated and disease rampant, he didn't want his band members to suffer any longer. He appointed his brother, Red Pheasant, to sign.

Elders say these and other chiefs signed in a spirit of good will, intending to share the land and resources.

They settled on their current reserve in the Eagle Hills west of the Battleford. But many of the treaty promises of medical care or farming supplies were never honoured.

In 1910, Red Pheasant member Alex Wuttunee Decoteau became Canada's first Indigenous police officer. In 1912, he took a leave from the Edmonton force to train as a long-distance runner. In Stockholm, Sweden, he placed sixth in the Olympic 5,000-metre race.

Decoteau then volunteered to serve in the First World War, and was killed by a German sniper in the second battle of Passchendaele.

"Alex is my hero," said former Red Pheasant chief Gerald Wuttunee.

The running track at Red Pheasant is named after Decoteau.

Red Pheasant band member and Olympic runner Alex Wuttunee Decoteau became Canada's first Indigenous police officer. He was killed by a sniper in the First World War. (Canada Sports Hall of Fame)

Bugler walks through the Allen Sapp Gallery in North Battleford and stops at his favourite painting, Round Dance. Like the rest of Sapp's work, it's a literal, affectionate depiction of Sapp's childhood memories on the reserve.

Sapp used to walk by the Bugler family home on his way to the highway. He'd be carrying several paintings wrapped in a tattered blanket. They'd offer him tea, then he'd hitch hike into North Battleford to hawk his art on the street.

Sapp developed a number of close friendships with North Battleford residents such as Dr. Allan Gonor, but he faced frequent discrimination.

The Sapp gallery sits next to the provincial courthouse where hearings were held for the man accused of killing Boushie.

Sapp "would've been saddened by all the venom, all the hatred" that's surfaced in the fallout from the Boushie shooting, Bugler said.

The late prime minister Pierre Trudeau receives a painting from Allen Sapp and Allan Gonor. (Allan Sapp Gallery)

Bugler, former chief Wuttunee and others point to other Red Pheasant luminaries who have tried – or are still trying — to act as agents of reconciliation:

"We have lawyers, artists, athletes — a lot of great people," Wuttunee said.

*Western Canada's first Indigenous lawyer, William Wuttunee.

*Order of Canada officer Gerald McMaster. McMaster was recently named curator and Canada Research chair at The Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U).

*Liberal MP Robert Falcon-Oulette, 40. Wearing moose hide jacket, Falcon-Oulette gave a speech last month in the House of Commons in Cree advocating for missing and murdered Indigenous women."

They say that while reconciliation is the goal and the key is education, Boushie case shows it's still a long way off.

"It's still there," Bugler said. "It shows its ugly head every now and then."