Unreserved

'We need to break these cycles and tell different stories': Jesse Wente on coverage of Colten Boushie

When Jesse Wente first heard the verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial in the death of Colten Boushie, like many Indigenous people he was angry, but he wasn’t surprised.
Jesse Wente, director of the national Indigenous Screen Office.
Listen7:19

When Jesse Wente first heard the verdict in the Gerald Stanley trial in the death of Colten Boushie, like many Indigenous people he was angry, but he wasn't surprised.  

"I think verdicts like this shouldn't be unexpected in these sorts of cases, when it comes to justice for Indigenous people on Turtle Island," said Wente.

"I think it's always important to keep in mind that these things don't occur in isolation, this is something that's very in the nature of Canada as a nation state — these things aren't in a vacuum."

In the aftermath of the case, and the varied opinions on it, Wente said he is reminded how divided Canada is.

"This whole story reminds us that we still don't know each other all that well in this country," said Wente, speaking to Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild.

"We talk about being neighbours … but not a lot of people are acting very neighbourly."

Wente said there are a few questions that non-Indigenous Canadians can ask themselves about whether or not they are forging a connection with their Indigenous neighbours.

  1. Do people even know the treaty they're on, if there is one?
  2. Do they know the nearest First Nation to them?
  3. Have they even been to a powwow?
  4. Have they ever read a book by an Indigenous author?
  5. Have they ever watched a movie by an Indigenous director?

Misunderstandings about Indigenous people are, in part, driven by how they are represented in the media and in stories, Wente explained.

"If you look at say the history of representation of story going back to the mid 19th century — when this country was born — you tended to see Indigenous people portrayed … as either noble or bloodthirsty," said Wente.

"Combined with policies that move First Nations and Indigenous communities from white settlements, it created this space between both sides, the town and farm as civilized, but the rez or our communities as violent and unfriendly places, riddled with crime."

"And we see these tropes playing out right now in the media, even before the verdict and after the verdict … we need to break these cycles and tell different stories."

Wound becomes a scar

Despite being angry, Wente said he is hopeful for the future, and that there is a large push among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to change the narrative.

While this is a wound now, it will become a scar … from the scar will change grow.- Jesse Wente

"The fact that we're hearing calls for jury reform, and not just from the Indigenous community, but from a broad spectrum, is indicative I think that the narrative this time around, is not yet set even if the verdict is rendered," said Wente.

"We're very much in a battle for the story, for the context that this would have moving forward. And the context … becomes the basis of history, which becomes the basis for stories that have been told for generations, and then those stories ultimately drive cultural conditioning." 

Wente is reminded of what an elder said at a rally in Toronto the weekend following the verdict.

"While this is a wound now, it will become a scar … from the scar will change grow," said Wente.

"Scars are waypoints of survival, they are wells of strength. And as we know our communities have many scars. And they tell us just how strong we truly are, even in the face of the next wound that may come."