Unreserved

Niigaan Sinclair: 'If there's any moment for Canada to step up, this would be the moment'

When your job is to teach Canadians about what reconciliation means, hope is an important part of the conversation. But for Niigaan Sinclair, a professor of Native studies at the University of Manitoba, the not guilty verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial robbed him of that hope.
Niigaan Sinclair, speaking at a rally for Colten Boushie in Winnipeg on February 10, 2018. "For me," he said, "it wasn't the verdict that was surprising. I shouldn't have, but I think I felt like our community had yet another reason to not believe in change and not believe in growth." (provided)

When your job is to teach Canadians about what reconciliation means, hope is an important part of the conversation.

But for Niigaan Sinclair, a professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba, the not guilty verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial robbed him of that hope.

"I was with my family that night. We knew the verdict was coming so we all watched our phones," he recalled.

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

"I thought, if there's any moment for Canada to step up, this would be the moment," Sinclair said, voicing his disappointment. 

Sinclair, who speaks and teaches about reconciliation to students, organizations and members of the public, said he had begun to believe a shift was happening in the relationship between non-Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

But that the acquittal of Stanley shook that belief.

"For me it wasn't the verdict that was surprising. I shouldn't have, but I think I felt like our community had yet another reason to not believe in change and not believe in growth."

'Uncles failing us'

Since the verdict was announced last Friday, Sinclair has been talking with young people and community members and they expressed disappointment in him.
“Canada never fails to disappoint,” Niigaan Sinclair said of Gerald Stanley's acquittal. (Facebook)

"There was a youth group held in Winnipeg here this week, where they talked about some of their 'uncles failing us' and that's been hard for me to hear because I've been very hopeful person for a long time," he said.

"To hear youth and people I really deeply admire and respect say that they've been disappointed in me losing hope, I have to admit it's really got me to think back onto the way I think about things. And to perhaps think before I speak because I was very emotionally moved that night."

He said he finds it remarkable that Indigenous young people haven't turned to more drastic means to force change, citing cases of racial tension and violence in the United States following controversial court decisions.

"On that night, I felt a loss of hope because I felt so angry. I felt violent. I felt upset. That's hard for me to say because I'm not a violent person … Maybe I lost hope in myself."

Talking to young people in the days that followed, Sinclair said he was reminded of the strength and resilience of Indigenous people.

One of dozens of rally's in support of Colten Boushie's family took place across the country, this one in Vancouver. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"Our people believe in peace. Our people believe in love. We believe in responsibility."

But he said, Indigenous people are feeling fearful and stressed and that now more than ever it is time for non-Indigenous people to stand up.

"I have belief in Indigenous people and I have belief in many of the Canadians I meet along the way and for me those people are going to be the ones to bring the change."

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