Indigenous·Opinion

Colten Boushie was killed and everything changed

Up until a week ago I was having a pretty good summer. The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women was off to a good start, people were talking about reconciliation and the Olympics were sending out good vibes. Then Colten Boushie was killed and everything changed.

Racism is 'part of the fabric of the province,' says Doug Cuthand

Colten Boushie was killed on a farm near Biggar, Sask. on Tuesday. (Facebook)

Up until a week ago I was having a pretty good summer.

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women was off to a good start, people were talking about reconciliation and the Olympics were sending out good vibes with events like the shared gold medal between Penny Oleksiak and Simone Manuel. Ms Manuel is the first African American to win a medal in swimming.

Then Colten Boushie was killed and everything changed.

A week ago Tuesday, Boushie's family said he spent the day with friends swimming in the Saskatchewan River east of the Red Pheasant reserve. According to the family, on the way home, they had a flat tire and turned into a farm to get help.

What followed has been told by both sides and in the end, Boushie was dead and Gerald Stanley, the 54-year-old farmer is facing charges of second-degree murder.

Bill Hanson was the head of an organization called the Interprovincial Association for Native Employment. He used to say that 40 per cent of the people support us, 40 per cent can be convinced and 20 per cent won't come around no matter what you do. His advice was to ignore the 20 per cent and work with the rest.

Last week the 20 per cent let their feelings be known and it wasn't good.

This is when social media came alive and people were jumping to conclusions like grasshoppers. The RCMP sent out a press release that didn't clear things up and it in fact added fuel to the bonfire of racism raging on social media.

The RCMP release stated that the three survivors were taken into custody on a theft-related investigation. Later they were all released and no charges were laid. This gave people the opportunity to jump to the conclusion that the Aboriginal youth were thieves.

Also the RCMP made the statement that charges were being contemplated for property damage. This ambiguity led to the belief that the youths had somehow done damage to the farm, in reality the truck's windshield was smashed by one of the people at the farm.

Facebook group fuels hate

A Facebook page with the title Saskatchewan Farmers Group lit up with racist comments. Comments such as "shoot them, breed like rabbits anyways," "He should have shot all five of them given a medal," "his only mistake was leaving three witnesses." And so on.

The page has since disappeared but for a while it was the focus of the province's racist underbelly. But these were not anonymous bigots; they gave their names and were blatant in their condemnation of Aboriginal people. This lack of shame or hiding one's name is an indication that racism is widespread in this province.

The reaction in the Aboriginal community was much different. People were shocked at the callous and racist outpouring of hate before the family even had a chance to mourn their loss, hold the funeral and conduct the appropriate ceremonies.

Facebook comments rolled in such as: "This is terrible! Sounds like down south! Murder in front of four witnesses is the crime here!"

In the past Saskatchewan has had its share of racial violence but this time social media has brought it to the surface.- Doug Cuthand

The province's political leaders took a stand against the racist comments but didn't single out the white farm group. Instead condemnation was vaguely spread across the whole population.

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.

However, to his credit, Premier Wall also pointed out that, "There are laws that protect citizens from what this kind of hate may foment. They will be enforced."

In the past, Saskatchewan has had its share of racial violence but this time social media has brought it to the surface.

Today Aboriginal people have laptops and iPads and access to social media. What many white people don't realize is that we have embraced technology and use it as a part of our culture. Stories and commentary are shared on Facebook in the same manner that travellers would tell stories of their exploits.

This was behind the success of the Idle No More movement and it will be behind the ongoing discussion on this case and subsequent demonstrations.

Family from as far as Alberta and the northwest U.S. gathered on the Red Pheasant First Nation Saturday morning for the funeral of Colten Boushie. (OLIVIER FERAPIE/RADIO-CANADA)
This Thursday, Stanley makes a court appearance and a large rally is planned. Aboriginal people from across the province will be there to show their support to the family and friends who lost a loved one.

This case will no doubt drag on and every court appearance will be met with a demonstration. Saskatchewan race relations will be in the spotlight and the 20 per cent will most likely grow.

But in the end one person has lost his life, a family is in mourning and another has the potential to spend the rest of his life in jail and his family will suffer also. All for an incident that didn't need to happen.

About the Author

Doug Cuthand is an Indigenous affairs columnist, freelance journalist and filmmaker who lives in Saskatoon. He is a member of the Little Pine First Nation, Sask.

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