Justice for Colten Boushie

One more dead Indian

Canada has given Indigenous people nothing but injustice
Photo: Wayne Stadler

There’s been outrage over Gerald Stanley’s acquittal in the death of young Colten Boushie. Understandable outrage. My family members, Indigenous leaders, common people, and many of my relations voiced their outrage with the dual injustice visited on Boushie first by Stanley then by the justice system. I’ve heard the outrage on the news and in coffee shops. I’ve read the endless arguments and counter-arguments on social media. But I decided to take some time and think before setting my thoughts to record.

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Many are reasonably outraged.

I am not.

I feel angry and my emotions counsel rage. Yet I am not outraged primarily because of an Anishinabe teaching known as the “ethic of non-interference,” or alternatively as aanjigone. One encounters this teaching in all sorts of literature. More importantly, one encounters this teaching in daily relations with Indigenous people and in the manner and comportment of our true Elders.

The ethic of non-interference doesn’t translate the teaching well because the teaching depends on the individual’s interpretation. For me it’s an inner equanimity, a balanced mode of being, an existential serenity, a clarity of vision and quietude of mind that permit one to consider things deeply and thoroughly before opining and acting on them.

Indigenous nations have never had justice from the Canadian government.

Aanjigone means considering a thing from every angle and philosophically constructing one’s opinion, not reacting harshly and negatively out of emotive rage, feel it though we may. This teaching asks us to be slow with our criticism, and mete out our opinions with gravity. It’s a quality one aspires to for an entire life and still might not attain. I certainly haven’t.

And so, because of this teaching, Stanley’s acquittal doesn’t outrage me. It’s an injustice, an egregious one at that. The support and solidarity we’ve seen for Boushie’s memory and family is necessary. I don’t mean to detract from any of that.

I mean to say that, after considering the thing carefully, I can say that this injustice doesn’t outrage because it’s just one more injustice in a long line of recent and distant injustices.

Indigenous nations have never had justice from the Canadian government. Go as far back as you like, from Riel and Dumont to Dudley George to the countless missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. And now Colten Boushie.

One more dead Indian.

I’m not outraged because there never was justice, for Dudley and so many others. We’ve come to expect injustice, and Stanley’s exoneration delivers what we ought to have expected: another egregious outrage. Outrage and injustice are the norm, for Canada has given us nothing else. I didn’t expect justice. And we didn’t get justice. We got more of the status quo.

A biased and unjust system may have acquitted Stanley of a murderer’s guilt. I’m sure a small morsel of justice would have been some consolation to the family that lost a loved one. But Stanley is guilty. And he’ll wear that guilt on his soul.

I say that having considered the matter deeply and having finally deciding to speak. I can’t get inside the man’s head and I wasn’t there. I won’t presume to know more than the next person, who also wasn’t there, and also can’t assess Stanley’s thoughts.

But I’ve lived long enough to understand too well the prejudice and racism that face my relations in this country. While I can’t know, I strongly suspect that Boushie is dead because he was an Indian. Because Canadian prejudice and racism associate Indigenous people wrongly with warlikeness and savagery and criminality. I strongly suspect, again, that if the occupants of that SUV in Saskatchewan were white they probably wouldn’t have had a gun pointed at their heads. And there would have been no chance for a mysterious misfire.

The irony here is subtle. Some may already see the irony I’m pointing to. Indeed it ought to be pointed out and read on to learn it.

Boushie died, just like so many others, because of racism and prejudice, because of impunity and ignorance. He died because systemic prejudice in the minds of many Canadians associates young Indigenous males immediately with savagery and warlikeness and criminality. Anishinabe teachings encourage you to be thoughtful and grave in your opinions, lest you become the very thing you hate.

It’s a fine lesson to learn. And here’s the irony. That’s what happened to Gerald Stanley, whether guilty in a court or not.

Fearing the warlike savage, fearing the delinquent criminal, Gerald Stanley drew his weapon, and, in an instant, became those things himself.

Stanley said he just wasn’t thinking straight. Perhaps he will start now.

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