Disappointment, but not surprise, is a prevailing theme after the acquittal of Gerald Stanley for the murder of Colten Boushie.
Following a rally on Saturday at the Yellowknife Post Office, a crowd of nearly 100 people gathered for a demonstration outside of the Legislative Assembly in response to Friday’s verdict.
Boushie was killed in August 2016 in North Battleford, Saskatchewan from a gunshot to the back of the head. He and four friends stopped at the Stanley farm for help with a flat tire, where Gerald Stanley’s defense claims they tried to steal a vehicle on the property. After a heated exchange, three shots were fired with one hitting the 22 year old Boushie in the back of the head. Stanley says he was just trying to scare them, and the gun went off by accident. A gun was found by Boushie’s body in the vehicle, but he had not fired a shot.
Following the death and during the trial, a spotlight has been shone on a widespread and disturbing culture of racism in Canada. A rural councillor, Ben Kautz, resigned under pressure after posting that the “only mistake was leaving witnesses”, and many other anti-Indigenous posts followed throughout the trial process. Boushie’s family also complained the RCMP officers investigating mistreated them, but they were cleared.
After everything, on Friday an all white jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty of any charges, with cries of “murderer” following the verdict.
On Monday, a flute player and two songs from Dene drummers opened the demonstration. Gail Cyr, Deneze Nahkako, Bill Erasmus and Melaw Nakehk’o all spoke to the crowd, which included some MLAs and former chiefs. Although angry with the verdict, no one seemed surprised by the decision of the courts. Speakers all say that there are long overdue changes to be made to the justice system, and supporters around the country including Prime Minister Trudeau seemingly agree.
Gail Cyr says that a starting point would be better educating the general public.
You teach about the inherent rights that people had, and why did the people enter into treaties? Because they’re sovereign nations, and that is not understood by most people.
Even besides teaching about Indigenous people, Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says these incidents show people need to simply learn the value of a human life.
These kinds of incidents have to stop. People have to start trusting each other, I mean if somebody drives into your yard, why have a gun? You don’t need a gun, guns are not made to shoot people they’re made to hunt animals. So, I think we need to educate people to really think about taking someone’s life.
The rally, and many alike it across Canada, calls for change everywhere in Canada including the North, but especially in the prairies and northwestern Ontario.
The Boushie family plans to appeal the court’s decision, and Stanley also faces two lesser charges.
Although the verdict has brought widespread disappointment, Indigenous people and supporters throughout the country hope it may finally spark the changes to the justice system and treatment of Indigenous people promised by the Canadian government for years.