NOW MagazineNewsColten Boushie murder trial: this is what colonization looks like
Colten Boushie murder trial: this is what colonization looks like
Why an all-white jury's acquittal of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley on second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of young Indigenous man amounts to a continuation of cultural genocide
By David MacDonald
Feb 13, 2018
Colten Boushie in undated photo.
Colten Boushie in undated photo.
The decision by an all-white jury, presided over by a white judge, to acquit the killer of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, is a severe test for the Canadian legal system.
It’s nice that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged “the grief and sorrow the Boushie family is feeling,” while “sending love to them.” But it’s time to step things up — including an overhaul of how juries are selected, an inquiry to ensure that Indigenous victims are not treated as criminals in future and a deep investigation into embedded racism within Canadian police forces and the courts.
Those of us who are settlers must take responsibility for our institutions and stand with Indigenous peoples to ensure they can implement their own justice systems. Clearly, ours are working all too well, but in destructive ways.
Is it normal for police to tell you that your son is dead, imply you have a drinking problem and then search your home for clues? It seems so in Saskatchewan. The police acted as if they were an army of occupation in someone else’s home.
What does colonization and occupation look like? Statistically like this: In mid-2016, Maclean’s surveyed the 265 most powerful positions in Saskatchewan’s legal, educational, business and legislative systems: 4.5 per cent of positions were filled by Indigenous peoples. Only two of 101 judges are Indigenous — in a province where 81 per cent of inmates in provincial jails are Indigenous.
A recent poll indicated Saskatchewan residents viewed the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people more negatively than anywhere else in Canada, and 41 per cent of respondents blamed “Aboriginal peoples” for inequalities and problems. Saskatchewan was also the home of the last federally funded Indian Residential School. One of its survivors, Darren Maxie, told Maclean’s: “It is their system, not ours… Every institution belongs to them. We are not allowed in.”
We can see the residential schools as genocide and the use of starvation tactics to “clear the plains” of Indigenous peoples, a term popularized by James Daschuk in his 2103 book. Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life.
In this small world of prairie justice, the presiding judge in the Stanley trial was Martel Popescul who, in his previous life as a lawyer, represented the RCMP after the Nerland trial. Many were rightly calling for an inquiry to investigate the extent to which Nerland’s racism was a factor in Lachance’s killing, an inquiry Popescul sought to block on behalf of the RCMP, arguing that police informants might be exposed.
The Stanley decision demonstrates yet again that not only are white farmers above the law, but young Indigenous men may well be below it. That is, they cannot rely on the protection of settler law because it is not designed to protect them.
The basis of this goes way back to the Doctrine of Discovery – the 15th century belief that Europeans “discovered” North America and gained sovereignty and title despite the fact Indigenous peoples had owned the land for many millennia. Because this doctrine remains embedded in Canadian law, racist violence may continue indefinitely unless we stop it.
Even south of the border, where guns proliferate, in 2014 there were no justifiable homicides involving American Indians either as victims or shooters, according to the latest report from the Violence Policy Center.
This is connected to many other issues, such as the pass system, which kept Indigenous people from selling or trading without permission, the residential schools, which took Indigenous children from their families, and the ‘60s scoop, where Indigenous children were again taken, partially on the basis that their families couldn’t support them.
The ‘disappearing Indian?’
Much was made about Boushie and his friends having had too much to drink on the day he was killed. The concept of “drunken Indians stealing” from white settlers also goes back to the early days of colonization. In 1868 federal laws prohibited Indigenous peoples from purchasing or consuming alcohol. Under the Indian Act, even possessing alcohol was illegal. This was only formally changed by an amendment in 1985.
Myths of the inevitability of Indigenous disappearance allowed settlers to evade responsibility for the negative impacts of colonization, since they are only there to promote western civilization and law, while Indigenous peoples are “dying due to an inherent incapacity to survive modern life.” It seems that even when a white farmer pulls a trigger, these types of ingrained myths continue to be influential.
The jury could have found Stanley guilty of manslaughter – “a homicide committed without the intention to cause death” – although there may have been an intention to cause harm in Stanley’s case. With a firearm involved, the minimum sentence is four years. Nerland received four years in prison and served three. Stanley is free and gained almost $33,000 in one day from almost 500 people through online crowdfunding to defray his legal costs. The fund has since eclipses $100,000.
This bill won’t change attitudes, but it can shift the underlying laws and the frameworks for making policy, to ensure that there are no more miscarriages of justice.
David MacDonald is a professor of political science and Research Leadership Chair for the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences at the University of Guelph. This story was originally published at theconversation.com.