We already know the story of Gerald Stanley and Colten Boushie. Indian youth pull into farmyard with devious plans. Get shot and killed by white man. At least we think we know the story. The human mind does tend to fill in the blanks. We imagine the unknown in ways that align with our already existing paradigm of beliefs. We also fill in the emotion. We get careless with our words.
I am a Moniyaw Woman, a white woman. I am honored to have the opportunity of working in Maskwacis for Samson Cree Nation, a beautiful community full of amazing people. I’ve learned so much in the past three years of my work there, and it’s times like this that I want to act as a bridge to help people understand each other. I hope that, no matter where you stand in the spectrum of opinion about the acquittal of Gerald Stanley, that you’ll consider some of these points. I also want you to know that I consider myself neither Liberal nor Conservative. I’m really big into common sense, critical thinking, and walking the extra mile toward understanding.
For First Nations people, this isn’t just a kid.
- He’s a symbol of every child they’ve lost – and believe me, there have been many. He’s a reminder that he’ll never have a chance to learn the traditional lessons.
- He’s a reminder of where we are. Things went on that white culture doesn’t know about and hasn’t taken the time to learn.
- He’s a mix of shame and pride and logical knowledge that lives matter, and that all people can make change in their lives.
For white people, this isn’t just a guy defending his property and family.
- He’s a symbol of every unexpected and unfair violent death perpetrated by First Nations People.
- He’s a symbol of fear, and a sense of being unprotected.
- He’s a reminder that even though they can’t help what their ancestors did, the debt can’t be fully paid. They are exhausted trying to pay for the tragedy.
These are all valid perspectives, and I’m going to dig into them one by one.
1.He’s a symbol of every child First Nation People have lost – and believe me, there have been many. He’s a reminder that he’ll never have a chance to learn the traditional lessons. The death rate of Indigenous youth is frightening. First Nations Youth living on reserves are experiencing loss of hope. They are not well accepted into general culture. Yes. Racism exists, and it leads to a multitude of problems.
There are White People reading this right now saying, “Oh Good Lord Kelly. Of course, there is racism. Are you seriously telling us that? There is, but not by me, and I honestly don’t think it’s as bad as they say.”
Here’s a story to help you understand. When I first started working at Maskwacis, I experienced my one and only (to this date) experience with racism against me. If you’re reading this, you probably know me, and you know that It’s important to me to operate with positivity and good intentions. So, there I was handing out little pieces of paper with affirmations on them to people I didn’t know. I was new at this. One lady pushed the affirmation back at me, with the words “I don’t need your white man residential school bullshit!” I was floored – and that’s the point I want to make. Racism interrupts your day because someone throws in your face something about yourself that isn’t true. It messes with your heart and your head. I can compare the moment to a physical slap in the face. I’m sure my eyes widened, and though I didn’t react, I sure bristled internally. And I thought about it afterwards, more than one time. That’s racism. It interrupts your day with people’s false assumptions about you. It happened to me once. It happens to the people I work with everyday. Sometimes several times a day.
Maybe you have tattoos, or a face that doesn’t match your intelligence level. Maybe you are old, and people underestimate you. Maybe you are young and people misjudge you. Maybe you are overweight and people think you’re lazy. If you’ve ever experienced any of these you’ll understand – and then multiply by an unknown, very high number. Imagine security following you as soon as you walk into a store – even though you have a University Degree and work every day to change the world. In their world view, you are clearly about to shoplift. Imagine picking up food for your child, because you’re a good mom, and coming out of the grocery store to a note on your window that uses the word “Savages”. These things interrupt a day, creating walls and poisoning relationships. These things happen everyday.
2.He’s a reminder of where we are. Things went on that white culture doesn’t know about and hasn’t taken the time to learn.
Seriously. It’s not okay to forget that the Canadian Government attacked the Indian Peoples with genocidal fury. It’s the truth. And although even some of my First Nation friends tell stories of good experiences in Residential Schools – there was so much more bad than good. It’s also important to note that the schools changed over the years. The first schools were not what the last schools were and a lot of information about the early schools was held by people who have already passed.
Know this – many First Nations People are just learning about this history. The reason they are just learning about it now is because of the trauma. I don’t know a lot about the war, even though my Grandfather fought. What I did know about it is that I wasn’t supposed to ask questions. And so it’s been in so many First Nation families. The trauma was so great that learning is only beginning to take place. The first step to recovery is learning, and I see the recovery happening every single day. There are two things white people do that are not helpful. The first is minimizing the trauma from the history of the First Nations people, and the second is shouting about it without learning about it first. This is seen especially in people just forwarding information online without truly learning the truth and the bigger picture. Taking the time to learn allows us to engage in conversation. Conversation leads to further understanding.
I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be involved in playing a part in the facilitation of “The Blanket Exercise”. Blankets are laid on the floor, all connected in a beautiful tapestry. This is Turtle Island. This is Canada before colonization. The story is told – The diseases, the disenfranchisement, the residential schools, the 60’s scoop, there’s more, too much for this article. Here’s what impacts me the most – An entire generation was taken away from their parents. They lost a generation of how to actually parent. Parents were devastated. Addictions were created that were meant to fix the holes of loss, but never did. Then a generation of kids finished school without ever being consistently parented – and they started having kids. Oh, but wait, then it was done again with the 60’s scoop, and another generation of parenting was interrupted. There’s a whole bunch of unparented adults out there trying to parent kids. The last residential schools have only closed down within this generation. These people haven’t even had a full generation yet to correct this damage.
3.He’s a mix of shame and pride and logical knowledge that lives matter, and that all people can make change in their lives.
There is a generalized myth out there that First Nations People engage in crime and support each other in crime. And honestly, this situation is making it appear that way even more so. It’s not so black and white. Members of my family have behaved badly. They didn’t deserve to die, and neither did Colten. That’s the overriding message, but the message has become lost in the defensive walls that have been built. Are there people out there who believe that he did deserve to die? Yes. Some, but not many. Most point out that the people in the car were taking criminal chances, and when you take criminal chances you put yourself in chancy positions. There is truth in that statement, and there is truth in the statement that he didn’t deserve to die. It is important to think critically about this and to open up your perceptions. Just because one thing is true, doesn’t mean the other is not true.
We need to focus on our own knowledge and critical thinking. We need to develop relationships with each other. We need to be aware of the media’s ability to create strife.
Within First Nations communities, Elders and others work to teach forgiveness, humility, and respect. Though there are some community members who aren’t yet holding on to the lessons, it’s not that much different in white culture. There are some problems there with youth as well.
There is sadness that Colten won’t have the opportunity to make change in his life. These are changes that I see everyday in my work. People can suddenly realize they want to make a change, and the resources are there for them when they do. I see some of these people go on to make so many other changes and touch the lives of so many people.
4.He’s a symbol of every unexpected and unfair violent death perpetrated by First Nations People.
Mr. Dove, who was killed when he stopped to help some “stranded” First Nations People. My mother’s neighbor, who was shot in the stomach while her house was being robbed. There are more examples – a long list of examples. People are legitimately and reasonably afraid, which leads to heightened emotions and unpredictable actions. It’s possible, but not productive to present anecdotes and statistics. I’m not going to do that, but I am going to tell one story.
Whether a person is white, or brown, killing someone changes them. They find that people lose support in them. People are suspicious around them. They are suspicious about themselves. Often they live in guilt. The incident is not forgotten, even if it is forgiven. Here you see a picture of dreamcatcher that my father purchased from one of the murderers of Mr. Dove, who was killed when he stopped to help a car of people who seemed to be having car trouble. He spoke of being ostracized. Whether a murderer is jailed or not, his life will be affected.
5.He’s a symbol of fear, and a sense of being unprotected.
When people are afraid, they are missing out on a very basic, bottom line need of safety. When you look at Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, you know it’s tough to reach self-actualization if your basic needs are not met. Self actualized people are better able to take a broad look at societal issues and begin focusing on solutions. People who do not have the basic need of safety met, they can only focus on doing what they need to do to be safe.
The solutions begin at an individual level. The government is looking at what changes need to happen and that’s hopeful. I’m not saying the verdict should be changed. I don’t think it should. The issues of underrepresentation of First Nations People on juries is a societal issue with its own reasons. This case went to 12 jurors who decided based on evidence – that’s the beauty of our court system.
This I know. We all need to step up and be better. We need to connect with each other. We need to learn each others histories, accurately, and believe the facts. We need to think critically about why we are acting in ways that push each other away.
6.He’s a reminder that even though they can’t help what their ancestors did, the debt can’t be fully paid. They are exhausted trying to pay for the tragedy.
White people don’t know what else to do. They do see problems within the First Nation Communities – sometimes they are the exact same problems that are being seen by First Nations people. They question about how much more they can give, particularly with regard to tax based funding. They question if their contribution is appreciated or misappropriated. They don’t understand how applying for funding for school works for First Nations People. They don’t know when, where and how First Nations People pay taxes. They are not informed. I don’t feel like I can do that here, I don’t even feel I know enough about it. It’s definitely an area for exploration.
Underneath anger there is always a secondary emotion. One that we, as a society, consider to be “weaker”. Fear, shame, embarrassment, humiliation. When we deal with the underlying emotion, we deal with the anger.
I sat in the doctor’s office writing this article, originally with a pen and paper. Looking around, I caught the eye of an elderly woman, and we started a conversation. She’d been widowed at a young age, and still raised a beautiful family, living in an area surrounded by reserves. She felt that no one should be on someone’s property with bad intentions, but said “I know good Indian people too.” And we talked. Right there out in the open where everyone could hear. We used the words White Man, and the word Indian. We talked about Residential Schools. And Disenfranchisement and enfranchisement. She learned a little, I learned a little. I expect even the other people in the waiting room might have learned a little.
Change is made at the individual level. Let’s keep at it with open minds and understanding hearts. We need to not bow our heads in shame because we are white and Gerald Stanley was acquitted. We need to not aggressively defend the right to keep our property and selves safe. We need to not bow our heads in shame because one of our kids was acting badly when he was killed. We need to not aggressively defend the right to act badly. We all need to hold our heads high and look around us – for how else will we come to understand one another?