The killing of Colten Boushie

Why the shooting of a Canadian Cree man has so many people angry.

 

Indian Country News is a weekly note from High Country News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West.

The night Colten Boushie was shot and killed in rural Saskatchewan, police surrounded the trailer of the deceased 22-year-old’s mother. More than a dozen officers, some with guns drawn, told her simply her son is “deceased,” before ordering the sobbing woman to her feet and searching her home without a warrant. As Debbie Baptiste sat crying in her living room, grieving for her son, one officer asked her whether she was drunk and smelled her breath.

No matter the circumstances of Boushie’s death or the acquittal of his killer, a 52-year-old farmer named Gerald Stanley, last week, the handling of the investigation and the treatment of Boushie’s family are clear examples of the continued mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in modern criminal justice systems. The 18-month trial and Friday’s not-guilty verdict have divided the central Canadian province and opened old wounds among the country’s Indigenous communities.

The facts of the case tell part of the story. Boushie, a Cree man, had been swimming and drinking with three friends in the Saskatchewan River in August 2016, and on their way home, their SUV got a flat tire. According to their own testimony, two of Boushie’s friends tried to steal an ATV from the ranch of Gerald Stanley, who was home at the time and fired a handgun into the air with two warning shots. The group returned to their SUV, followed by Stanley, and tried to drive away, but they crashed into one of Stanley’s vehicles instead. Witnesses testified that by then Boushie was unconscious in the driver’s seat, when Stanley approached and reached in the cab to take the keys from the ignition. Stanley testified that his handgun then discharged accidentally, shooting Boushie in the back of the head and killing him. There are, of course, many more details, and I would encourage you to read more about the trial.

Debbie Baptiste, the mother of Colten Boushie, holds up a picture of her son as she leaves court on the fifth day of the trial of Gerald Stanley, the white farmer accused of killing her son, a 22-year-old member of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation, in Battleford, Saskatchewan.
Liam Richards/The Canadian Press via AP

Stanley’s farm is a part of Canada called the Treaty Six territory, named for an 1876 agreement between the Canadian government and several tribes. Among their commitments under the treaty, those tribes, including the Cree, were to allow white settlers to live and farm in the territory in exchange for protection, medicine and rations in times of famine. The subsequent white settlement was the beginning of a long history that fostered a pioneer mentality to “protect what is yours” while simultaneously omitting the Indigenous peoples that previously lived there. In fact, Stanley’s defense attorney, Scott Spence, evoked that history during trial. “For farm people, your yard is your castle,” he said. “That’s part of the story here.”

Part of the story, perhaps, but not all of it. Stanley was acquitted by an all-white jury, and Native writers have been quick to point out that Boushie’s death and Stanley’s trial are part of an institutionalized pattern degrading Indigenous lives in Canada. Coupled with the facts that a multitude of cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women lack proper attention or outrage, or that Native peoples have a higher risk of death when dealing with police, it’s no surprise that a distrust of the criminal justice system continues to linger in Indigenous communities.

Canada is coming to terms with its horrendous treatment of Indigenous peoples in an increasingly public way. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to enshrine Indigenous rights into Canada’s Constitution, but Native leaders there remain cautious. As Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North told the CBC, she’s heard “a lot of good words” from Trudeau, but she’s waiting to “see how far” he takes them.

Wado.

Graham Lee Brewer is a contributing editor at High Country News and a member of the Cherokee Nation.

High Country News Classifieds
  • SENIOR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking a Senior Environmental Planner to lead the Nature in the City team. This interdisciplinary position is housed in...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) is seeking a dynamic community engagement assistant. The individual will work to identify and empower members, supporters, volunteers, and others...
  • VOICES OF WISDOM 2019 SOUTHWEST
    May 25 & 26 At the bank of the Colorado River, at Riverbend Park in Palisade, Colorado, the Sacred Fire Community in the Grand Valley...
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.