Justice for Colten. Emblazoned on sweatshirts, written on protest signs, shouted by demonstrators and spoken in reply to any question about what the family of the murdered young Cree man Colten Boushie is seeking, becomes the running theme of Tasha Hubbard’s riveting documentary, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up. By the end of the film, named Best Canadian Feature at Hot Docs 2019, there is little doubt that the Canadian justice system failed in the handling of the case, a message carried all the way to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
We Will Stand Up, which screens June 26 and 27 at Cinecenta at the University of Victoria, is an even-handed presentation of a story told from the perspective of the Cree community that gathered together to protest not just Boushie’s death but the systemic racism that resulted in the acquittal of the man who shot him in the back of the head.
Colten Boushie was a smart little boy who grew up on the Cree reserve of Red Pheasant, on the prairie northeast of Saskatoon. He was just 22 on the evening of August 9, 2016, when he and some friends were caught on the property of Gerald Stanley, who shot Boushie at close range with a restricted handgun.
Hubbard, a Cree filmmaker from the Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan, details the circumstances that led to Colten’s killing and reveals the depth of hatred expressed by the non-native rural inhabitants toward the Cree. “This is conflicted territory,” she says, “and Stanley’s actions have exposed longstanding wounds.” Red Pheasant is located on Treaty Six lands where the Cree were starved out in the late 1800s to make way for the railroad and violently suppressed when they fought in under leaders like Big Bear in what became known as the Northwest Rebellion. Eight warriors were tried, without representation, convicted and hanged in 1885.
The longstanding enmity plays out in the wake of Colten’s death. At the trial in Battleford, Stanley’s lawyers eliminate any potential jury members who are indigenous. The all-white jury declares Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder and an appeal of the verdict is turned down.
Two women emerge as the heroines of this story: Colten’s mother Debbie Baptiste and his sister Jade Tootoosis who becomes the spokesperson for the family and carries their case to Ottawa to meet MPs and Prime Minister Trudeau and then on to the UN in New York, where her testimony gets a standing ovation.
Justice for Colten becomes a cry for justice for all indigenous peoples caught in a system stacked against them. Hubbard’s film stands as a remarkable testament to the calm determination, dignity and united front Colton’s family and his community exhibit in the battle to balance the scales of justice.
nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up
Written and directed by Tasha Hubbard
A co-production of Downstream Documentary Productions and the National Film Board of Canada
Screening at Cinecenta, University of Victoria, June 26 and 27 at 7 and 9 pm
Photo of Colten Boushie driving with his mother Debbie Baptiste