The Current

Racial tensions flare in Sask. following killing of 22-year-old First Nations man

The killing of Colten Boushie, the 22-year-old Indigenous man shot dead on a farmyard near Biggar, Sask. has set off a firestorm of hate-filled response online. Many are not surprised saying the death exposes long-simmering racial tensions in Saskatchewan.
On Aug. 9, Colten Boushie, 22, was shot and killed on a rural property near Biggar, Sask. (Facebook)

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Colten Boushie and his friends had pulled off a rural road and onto a farmyard last week when he was shot dead near Biggar, Sask.

The killing has set off a firestorm, exposing what many say are long-simmering racial tensions in Saskatchewan.

We're all touched by racism in some form in this province. It happens on a daily basis.- Eleanore Sunchild, Indigenous lawyer

On social media, a slew of hateful comments have been proliferating such as this statement: "Farmer that killed one person for trespassing — shame on you. You should have shot all four of them and buried them out back."

Rob Feist, a non-Indigenous lawyer based in North Battleford, says racism "permeates" rural areas of Saskatchewan. He tells The Current's Connie Walker that where he grew up near Wilkie, Sask., racism was "constant."

"It was almost safe in our community when the doors were closed," Feist tells Walker. The "casualness of racism" was deemed acceptable.

Eleanore Sunchild, an Indigenous lawyer based in Poundmaker Cree Nation who grew up in Thunderchild First Nation, agrees with Feist that racism "happens on a daily basis."

"I think that we're all touched by racism in some form in this province," Sunchild tells Walker.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Aug. 14, Saskatchewan's premier Brad Wall condemned what he called "hate-filled" comments on social media and urged the province to trust the RCMP to investigate. 

Sunchild says part of the reasons for the divide is the limited contact between rural communities and Indigenous communities that neighbour them. She adds that history also plays a role in feeding the racial tensions that continue to exist.

"Stereotypes and racism are passed down from generation to generation since colonial times and they are used to justify racism today," says Sunchild.

Feist says there has been some "incremental progress" but change isn't quick enough. He tells Walker moving forward there needs to be a "recognition of historical wrongs that were done to First Nations people."

"It's fair to say [there's] a widespread lack of knowledge and almost a willful ignorance among some groups of the things that have affected First Nations people in Saskatchewan."

Sunchild hopes future generations will develop a universal understanding of Indigenous history.

"The first step is to teach meaningful education about the true colonial past ... It's only through education that we will challenge these myths of colonization that so many people believe true and that underlie the racism towards Indigenous peoples in this country and in this province."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Shannon Higgins and Marc Apollonio.