Joint Statement on the Stanley trial verdict, one year later

Joint Statement on the Stanley trial verdict, one year later, from:

Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta

Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Saskatchewan

Department of Native Studies, University of Manitoba

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the verdict for Gerald Stanley's killing of Colten Boushie, it is perhaps fitting that much of western Canada sits in the deep freeze of winter. For northern plains Indigenous peoples, winter is often a time of cleansing and a time for reflection, though little evidence exists that mainstream Canada has done either in the wake of the verdict. In contrast, the year following the shocking ruling has seen many scholars researching, teaching, filming, writing and talking publicly about the crooked vein of racism that coursed through it and continues to sit, wraith-like, beneath and just beyond the periphery of the public conversations most Canadians seem willing to have about who – and what – Canada is. Given the deep identity schisms that have marked Canada's collective self-reflections since its inception, one might be forgiven for thinking that the profound injustice that marked the Stanley verdict would give occasion to exact such reflection. The utter lack of sustained debate is thus all the more striking for its near-complete silence, while any conversations that have taken place in the mainstream have often been limited to reproducing status quo arguments rather than unearthing the underlying problematics of the trial and its aftermath.

The farming community's immediate reaction to the verdict, though distasteful, was not especially surprising. The jury's decision intensified the entitlement of non-Indigenous farmers about the right to "self-defense," a right couched in a discourse of the apparently feral presence of Indigenous families and communities next to "their" farm lands. American-style discourses about the "right to defend property" that continue to feed this phantasm are reflected in the rapid growth of rural crime watch organizations across Saskatchewan, from a handful to over a hundred in the years following Boushie's killing. Also unsurprisingly, the disturbing events in the Stanley case have been taken up in mainstream media and popular culture as an inevitable consequence of an "out of control" rural crime rate. In turn, such a focus has elided issues of race relations, colonialism, Indigenous political subordination, and outstanding jurisdictional questions under the treaties.

At the provincial level, the Saskatchewan government's response has been to redirect the dialogue towards the need to reduce incidents of rural crime. In response to public demand, Saskatchewan has created "a rural response team," increased the number of police in rural areas, enhanced the powers of municipal police and conservation officers, and purchased semi-automatic "assault rifles" for use by provincial conservation officers. Additionally, it has introduced legislative amendments geared towards heightening provincial trespassing laws that arguably stand in violation of Indigenous peoples' treaty rights.

At a national level, the conversation has appeared to dissociate the verdict from the other colonial projects that have been carried out over the past year, often with the veneer of reconciliation. In February 2018, less than a week after the Stanley verdict, the federal government announced its intentions to develop an Indigenous Rights Recognition and Implementation Framework, purportedly as a means of implementing Indigenous self-government and to create "certainty" surrounding jurisdictional questions. This initiative neither addressed the failures of justice apparent in the Stanley trial, nor was it accompanied by a willingness to revisit existing divisions of land, power, and jurisdiction. The primary structural change that the federal government has committed to has involved splitting the department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs into two departments, and in the process, bracketing off the day-to-day issues faced by Indigenous peoples from questions of land and territory. Public discourse and proposed legislation have failed, time and again, to link the colonialism present in the Stanley trial, verdict, and lack of appeal to the broader structures of colonialism at work in natural resource extraction and other forms of dispossession that, like the Stanley trial, appear to treat Indigenous peoples' territories and bodies as terra nullius (lacking humanity and, thus, agency).

As Indigenous studies scholars and staff we stand with and applaud the Boushie and Baptiste families' efforts to seek justice in the wake of the verdict. Their poise during such an arduous endeavour is not only a testament to their resolve in amplifying their voices (and the voices of those who have endured similar injustices) but also to their level of sustained determination in the face of a country and a history who would rather treat this as an isolated incident that ironically proves Canada's long record of fairness and tolerance. A year later, we thus continue to stand in resistance to a verdict rooted in fear rather than logic, and one that bears tragic witness to the failures of a judge, jury and prosecutor ill-equipped to deal with the structural inequities laid bare in this case.

But most of all, a year later we continue to research and teach in ways that honour what actually happened: a white farmer shot an unarmed Cree person in the back of the head, later defending his actions by appealing to long-held and entrenched racist beliefs that erase Indigenous peoples from our own ancestral territories, and cast us instead as menacing strangers in our own lands.

The image is from

Dr. Chris Andersen, Dean, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta
Dr. Robert Innes, Head, Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Saskatchewan
Dr. Cary Miller, Head, Department of Native Studies, University of Manitoba
Dr. Dallas Hunt, Assistant Professor, Department of Native Studies, University of Manitoba
Dr. Gina Starblanket, Department of Political Science, University of Calgary
Dr. Tasha Hubbard, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta

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