Colten Boushie documentary tackles racial tension on the Prairies

Film debuts for Kingston audience in special screening 

nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up played at the Screening Room on Oct. 16.
Credit: 
Photo from the National Film Board website

The latest film from award-winning Cree filmmaker Tasha Hubbard, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, debuted in Kingston this Wednesday, Oct. 16 at the Screening Room as a special presentation from the Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF).

The film, which follows the aftermath of the Colten Boushie murder and Boushie’s family’s search for justice, is an analysis of the struggles Indigenous peoples on the Prairies face.

Colten Boushie of the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation was shot to death in August 2016 by Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, when Boushie was 22. His death and Stanley’s subsequent acquittal sparked outrage across Canada, and drew attention to racism in the legal system, and the history of Indigenous-settler relations in Saskatchewan.

On the day Boushie died, his mother, Debbie Baptiste, describes RCMP officers barging into her family’s home, announcing that her youngest son was deceased and proceeding to search through her house. They were suspicious of everything she and her children told them, questioning whether Baptiste had been drinking. She hadn’t been.

When she began to panic, an officer told her to “get yourself together.”

From there, the film tracks the progress of the trial and the tensions between rural farmers and Indigenous residents. In townhalls, farmers stood by Stanley’s actions, speaking of defending their property and fears about supposedly drunken Indigenous people—perpetuating racist stereotypes. In this climate, the family petitioned for an out-of-province trial to avoid the racial bias they felt was unique to Saskatchewan. Their request was denied.

 During jury selection, every Indigenous person who had been randomly selected was rejected by the defence, ultimately leading to a jury entirely made up of white Canadians.

Following Stanley’s acquittal, Hubbard followed Boushie’s family as they spoke with politicians, including Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh on Parliament Hill, and went as far as New York City to speak at the United Nations. The only party leader that refused to meet with the family was Andrew Scheer, of the Conservative Party, the sole federal leader to represent a Saskatchewan riding.

Over the course of the film, Hubbard recounts the history of Indigenous peoples on the Prairie, and of her own family. The complicated and intertwined roots of all Prairie residents, both Indigenous and settler, play out on screen.

Hubbard was adopted into a white family as part of the Sixties Scoop, where Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed into foster care. While Hubbard’s story is a positive one, for many, the same isn’t true. The practice unleashed further patterns of trauma and abuse. Now, as Hubbard raises her son with knowledge of traditional Cree culture, her film explains how Boushie’s death has created anxieties about how young Indigenous men in the Prairies are often perceived.

A conversation between Hubbard, her son, and her grandfather—a rural white Saskatchewan farmer—is especially telling. He recalls clearing prairies for farmland in his youth and seeing teepee circles imprinted in the grass. He wondered for the first time whether clearing the land was the right thing to do.

He can’t help but see the Boushie case from the perspective of the farmer defending his property. Despite their different perspectives, the three of them smudge at the end of their conversation—something her son suggested they do to clear the air.

Ultimately, the history of the Prairies is too complicated to stop exploring.

Providing a platform for Indigenous stories in local theatres across Canada is crucial towards reconciliation. Hearing stories from Indigenous voices is the first step towards building real mutual understanding.

“We hope people leave the film wanting to learn more and take additional steps to bring about change,” said Marc Garniss, the KCFF director. “It's important that these stories be told in their voice, based on their experiences.”

 

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