What the tragedy of Colten Boushie says about racism in Canada

Andray Domise on how the young Indigenous man’s death is yet another reminder of lessons still not learned by many Canadians

Colten Boushie, a 22-year old First Nations man, was shot and killed on Aug. 9 after the vehicle he was in drove onto a farm in the rural municipality of Glenside, west of Saskatoon. (Liam Richards/CP)

Colten Boushie, a 22-year old First Nations man, was shot and killed on Aug. 9 after the vehicle he was in drove onto a farm in the rural municipality of Glenside, west of Saskatoon. (Liam Richards/CP)

“In my culture, you’re not supposed to name the dead,” she says. “At least not for the first while, or they might not be able to move on. But I had to say something. People had to talk about him, or nothing was going to happen.”

Chelsea Vowel, an Edmonton-based Métis educator and writer, is speaking about the death of 22-year-old Colten Boushie. Throughout the conversation, Chelsea wavers between righteous strength and tearful exhaustion. By the accounts so far, Boushie did not have to die. And yet the young man was laid to rest last week, gunned down in rural Biggar, Sask., after an altercation with farmer Gerald Stanley. Stanley now awaits trial for second-degree murder.

“They think they know about Indians,” Chelsea says, of non-Indigenous Canada. “They have this belief, that’s taught to them from birth, that everything Native people face is our own choice. Particularly in the Prairies, where there are very high populations.”

As Chelsea pours her heart out to me, I’m reminded of Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen: An American Lyric. Facing opposite a purposefully unfinished memoriam to Black men killed by police and white vigilantes, stand these lines:

because white men can’t

police their imagination

black men are dying

According to the friends who were with Colten, they were returning to the Red Pheasant reserve after an afternoon of swimming when their car tire went flat. They steered onto Stanley’s farm to seek help. Eric Meechance, who was sitting in the back seat of the vehicle with his girlfriend, described a rapid escalation to violence that ended with Colten’s death. “Some guy came and smashed in the front windshield,” he told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The frightened driver attempted to escape, but collided with another parked vehicle. Meechance and another of the car’s occupants fled on foot, and gunshots cracked behind him. The two were separated after Meechance ducked into bushes and ran two kilometres along a dirt road before being picked up by police.

Of those gunshots that split the afternoon sky, at least one of them killed Boushie.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the response from white Canada has limned in staggering detail our sins against the Indigenous body, and the ease with which we excuse our violence. First there was the RCMP press release, explaining matter-of-factly that the witnesses to Boushie’s killing—this is right after their friend was shot and killed—were taken into custody “as part of a related theft investigation.” None of the three were charged with any such crime. Then the racial animus began to seep out of the Facebook page for the Saskatchewan Farmers Group, with comments like “F–king indian,” and “He should have shot all 5 of them and given a medal.” Ben Kautz, a councillor for the Rural Municipality of Browning, Sask., had this to say: “In my mind his only mistake was leaving witnesses.”

Days later, CBC Saskatchewan published an article claiming that the social media debate in the wake of Boushie’s death was over the “right to defend.” In that piece, CBC interviewed a criminal defence lawyer who detailed the legal means by which killing an intruder on one’s property might be permitted. “Are these people known to them, or not known to them? Is there a history of violence between them or no history at all? Do the people appear armed or not armed?”

“When there doesn’t appear to be any reasonable alternative, lethal force is no doubt permitted.”

Enough people seemed to agree with the sentiment that a crowdfunding drive in the name of Stanley’s wife drew over $11,000 in donations before it was taken down by GoFundMe. Regular people, who probably consider themselves tolerant and enlightened individuals, opened their wallets to support a man who, purportedly, shot and killed an Indigenous youth.

At Stanley’s bail hearing in North Battleford, Indigenous groups and allied activists took to the streets in a demonstration of solidarity with Boushie’s family. Multiple witnesses, including Métis artist and author Christi Belcourt, snapped pictures of RCMP officers standing sentinel on rooftops surrounding the demonstration. According to Belcourt, officers were visibly armed, taking down their rifles as the crowd began turning cellphone cameras in their direction. Stanley, by the way, was granted bail. A privilege that too many Indigenous people have themselves been denied for far lesser crimes.

This past weekend, during the Tragically Hip’s last concert, beloved singer Gord Downie re-asserted Canada’s obligations to Indigenous peoples for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “He’s going to take us where we need to go. He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore.”

To wit, Trudeau himself once declared: “It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations peoples.” In addition to launching a public inquiry into the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women, Trudeau also promised to implement all 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC (which should be required reading for every Canadian who claims to understand our history) is a broad document that outlines the damage done not only by the horrific legacy of residential schools, but by Canada’s turning a blind eye to what we have wrought on Indigenous communities through purposeful neglect and wanton violation of our promises.

Those calls to action, even if fully acted upon by the federal government, ring hollow when Canadians, who think they know about Indians, misunderstand who and what they have been trained to ignore. The people who flooded the Saskatchewan Farmers Group with hateful comments, those who gave from their own accounts in Stanley’s name, the media who question where to draw the line between property rights and dead Indians, the councillor who regretted that Stanley failed to execute all of the passengers in that vehicle, and possibly Gerald Stanley himself—all bear the stain of Colten Boushie’s blood.

As do I, kidnapped body living on stolen land that I am.

As do you.

Because we cannot police our imagination,

Colten Boushie is dead.


What the tragedy of Colten Boushie says about racism in Canada

  1. Thank you for this article. Shoving a mirror in our faces. Canadians are not above the indignity’s that we ascribe to other nations, like the US. We are just as intolerant. We are just as indoctrinated to fear the “other”. I hope people read this and think about what they would have done. I hope people read this and question the RCMP’s attempt to cover up by implying the others were in custody….they were taken into custody “as part of a related theft investigation.” this just fans the flames. I hope people read this and question the local representative’s right to further fan the flames of intolerance ” Ben Kautz, a councillor for the Rural Municipality of Browning, Sask., had this to say: “In my mind his only mistake was leaving witnesses.” I hope people read this and question future GoFundMe initiatives.

  2. Oh we see the appalling ignorance and racism on here all the time…and yet we sneer at Americans

  3. I’m not sure there was anything of substance written here, just another social commentary piece. Same old, same old echo chamber stuff. The issue is not the racist white man, but the broken reservation system that is basically the old soviet communist system, where, for example, individuals don’t even own their own homes and everything is handed out and decided by the chief and his/her inner circle (dictatorship of the proletariat). It is a culture of dependence and it must be changed, but that will never happen as it’s not in the best financial interests of the people in charge (and the ‘industry’ that has wrapped itself around these issues). And the more remote and unviable the location of the reservation, the worse it is (and again the people in charge will not move, even for the good of their children as the resources claims are just too valuable). Until there are changes, we are ‘pushing on a rope’ while being bullied by these social commentators.

    • Only a nummy on here could link a native land agreement from 1763 to the Soviets

      • Please refer to my point on being bullied (insulted) by social commentators. So, besides an insult, is there anything constructive that you could add to this discussion on this problematic issue?

        • We know exactly how to fix it….we don’t need your dreary little ‘faux noble’ comments and a screwed up version of history.

          • As long as you keep responding in this antagonistic manner, things are never going to be fixed.

          • OMG…..you mean little ol’ me is holding up the entire process of settling the native problem?

            I had no idea.

            Get a grip dude…and stuff the ‘faux nobility’

    • I hope you realize that the whole system you describe is a product of your parliament. The Indian Act could be repealed or amended at any time but never has been. The chiefs are elected under that same act. The police removed our hereditary chiefs and govt. in the 1920’s. So I would say yes it is racist whitemen , beginning with MacDonald who have created this morass and who appear to have no 9interest in fixing their mess, while leaving FN as wards of the state.

      • Why is any action by governments in the past just understood in your mind to be racist – is that justification in your mind for not taking any owner ship of the current ‘mess’? Okay, if you want a non-racist solution then everyone needs to be treated the same, so let’s revoke the Indian Act immediately and break up the reserves by allocating land ownership to the individuals who currently occupy dwellings and revoke all special programs and tax allowances and so on. Still interested? – probably not.

        • Ahhh the ultimate racist solution…..steal everything from them.

          • Another moronic comment from Emily!! There’s NOTHING to steal and no one would want it if there was. The majority of reserves have nothing productive for those wo live there to do aided by too much funding for booze and drugs to fill the idle time. They sure as hell don’t live off the land like they used to. Why do that when you can just wait for the government cheque to role in.

          • Really? All that land? Gold, diamonds, oil…and things you don’t even know about…..chromite, lithium etc

            Plus of course, the way of life they choose for themselves.

            The point is….IT’S THEIR LAND….NOT YOURS

            You’re tripping over your racism

          • So Emilyone, you admit that these remote reserves, that would be better off abandoned, for a better future for their children are just being occupied as a negotiation for the resource ‘riches’ – pretty sad and that’s why nothing will change – it’s a money game for the ones who hold the power (both on and off the reserve) and the regular people on these remote reserves are just pawns in the ‘game’.

        • Yes. This argument is often used to remove the last few pieces of land from FN. In your idea…you say allocate land ownership to those who occupy dwellings. So what do yo do with those who have no dwelling but are on the books as members? What is your solution when you discover that allocating the land gives each person such a small portion that they will not be able to build on it? How will you handle treay lands and those rigts and obligations?

        • Reality77

          I said nothing about abandoning anything…..I said the reserves were worth a fortune

          That’s why racists WANT the land

    • The issue is the racist white man. Who, you know, created that reservation system you blame. And, you know, have done nothing but point the finger of blame at the people we colonized and margenaluzed ever since.

      You want to find a solution? Stop blaming.

      • ‘stop blaming’? Really? And yet your whole argument is based on blaming the racist white man for everything.

        • Not everything. Just colonization and the reservation system. Are you suggesting that is not true?

          There can be no solution if we are lying to ourselves about what got us to this point. You apparently want to ignore everyone’s responsibility and point fingers at the Indigenous population instead.

          • What does that fix Gayle? Sure, this is all the racist white man’s fault. Great. Now what? If the indigenous people want a better life, they need to move off of the reserve and build a better life for themselves. Maybe white guilt is your thing, but it does fuck-all for everybody else.

          • Coming from the perspective of ” sure, what we did was bad, but who cares. Now fix your own problems!” is not going to work. That attitude has prevailed for evades, and see where it has brought us.

          • So what’s your solution Gayle? I’m not hearing anything but a bunch of useless white guilt.

          • I do not presume to have “the solution”. I believe that nothing is accomplished by pointing fingers. Nor is any thing accomplished by refusing to acknowledge the serious wrongful acts perpetrated on Canada’s Indigenous people through colonization, wrongful acts that were not perpetrated by us, but from which non Indigenous Canadians continue to benefit to this day.

            The TRC is a good start. Everyone being honest about what has happened and everyone taking responsibility to make changes is another.

        • For example, your claim that people are not choosing to leave their homes and their cultures only because of resource claims is so baseless that I wanted to laugh out loud. I wouod have if it was not so tragically uninformed.

  4. Colonizing a place and letting demographics take over is surely a lot nicer than going in and killing everyone. But that’s how tribes and civilizations grow. Even before the white man came, this process was well underway, growth by warfare and then consolidation, would have spawned a civilization similar to most others in the world, however, the early iron-age encountered the renaissance, and now here we are. If you believe all people are essentially the same, and as a non-racist you should, then you should accept this process as part (often an ugly part) of the human condition. The difference here is the defeated have lawyers, what good that will do them remains to be seen, as the left is encouraging white tribalism, and that seldom ends well.

    • You ignore treaties. Surely even uncivilized westerners from Europe would honour them. You talk about defeat: Could you elaborate? I recall Tecumseh saving S. Ont. from becoming part of the U.S. and I remember the role of my ancestors in the American Revolution to keep Canada as part of the Empire. DEfeat, perhaps by the implementation of the Indian Act by parliament but that has not prevented 198 wins at the SUpreme Court of Canada with 5 wins for the feds.

  5. I have a solution to the racism problem in Canada.

    Go into every white man’s home in the country, seize the children, and send them to places where they can be re-educated. We’ll call it “The 16 Scoop”.

    Because the problem, you see, is basically the mom-and-dad influence. And I’m not kidding. Kids aren’t born racist – racism is a developed attitude which is learned from the elders in the home. Separate the children from the elders, and the problem will disappear in a few generations.

    The only rational alternative is to physically force white adults to shut the hell up. And that will never happen … because they are potential voters and, as Trump has shown, voters rule … no matter how stupid they are.

  6. Would really be interested in the story of the tragic murder of two First Nations young people at High Prairie, Alberta but I guess we won’t be getting that article because the cousin of the young man is charged with the murders. It isn’t a story of racism but rather of jeolousy and heartbreak and the devastation of entire community. It isn’t about race but rather the human condition. It is really unfair how you let a few very ignorant rednecks assure you that they define our country.

    • Racist white people are killing Indigenous people over land… still. Rest assured, the definition of Canada remains intact.

      • There are three dead indigenous kids. By my count, one died at the hands of a racist white person. Where is the article about the man who killed the other two? Where is that story? Not every indigenous person is dying at the hands of a racist white person or Gladue reports wouldn’t exist. Where are the statistics of how common inter-racial murder is?

  7. Sadly, this `piece’ is in line with much of the rest of the news-media commentary here – ironically, prejudiced, and demanding `justice’ by disdaining the very basis of the justice system: like the presumption of innocence, the right of people to defend themselves, to receive bail, etc etc.

    This is only really about the gunshot death of a young man; the people accompanying him have a story to tell which is been taken as true by the writer here, as by much of the rest of `journalists’ who are acting like stenographers.

    We’ve seen before how cut-and-dried examples of deaths allegedly caused by racism were revealed to be nothing of the sort; like the young man who `was just minding his own business’ holding skittles … but wait no, he attacked the man who shot him; or the other fine young man who was just standing there with his hands up and pleading `don’t shoot’ when… or wait, he had attacked a police officer once and was going to attack him again when he was shot, not in the back as originally claimed, but in the front as we was charging the policeman… This right after he robbed a store owner.

    But of course, hateful trolls like `Emily1′ or `Gayle1′ still believe the BS about these things, no doubt and no matter what the facts on record.

    And if it is revealed that the statements of the companions of the young man who died in Sask. are not wholly untruthful (let us be kind), will the writer of this piece, and the rest who piled on and deliberately ignored and undermined the presumption of innocence and right to fair trial and all the rest of the safeguards, also express regret and apologize?

    As in the other cases above, the answer is no.

    And for that you should be ashamed.

  8. Red lives matter too. Canada still has law about the amount of force that is permissible to ‘defend’ oneself and even less so, one’s property. This isn’t America yet.

    But with the number of aboriginal people in Canada’s prison population, this ‘gentleman farmer’ will require permanent protection, should a court decide ‘he goofed’.

  9. I wonder is anybody’s ever follows up on these stories. Especially now that it has come out that there was attempted robberies of a car and an ATV.

    I read these comments from everybody about how the system is s.o bad and everybody is racist. But all this outrage is based on lack of proper information.

    We can not necessarily jump to conclusions that this farmer just wanted to kill natives. We do not know his motives.

    To me the questions are does a person have the right to protect their property by any means necessary? Does this include killing someone? What if a person was only trespassing on his property? Could they be killed for that?

    It does not do anybody any good to jump to conclusions and if the laws are not good they need to be fixed for the benefit of everyone.

Sign in to comment.