Racist farmers and thieving Indians

By Kevin Joseph

Special to the Herald

A 22-year-old man’s life was cut short.

A mother had to be informed that the last time her son walked out of the house was the last time she would see him alive.

Family and friends of Colten Boushie will be gripping with the loss of that human life for a long time.

I was struggling with what to write this week. Rather, I knew I wanted to write about the Gerald Stanley trial, I was just struggling with finding the words to use.

I chose to start with the simple fact that a life was ended unnecessarily before it barely began. I don’t care about the details that lead to Gerald Stanley shooting Colten Boushie in the head. I just know that as a parent, this would be my worst nightmare.

Social media commentators have already taken sides. #JusticeForColten and #JusticeForGerald hash tags are appearing all over Twitter and Facebook. Regardless of what side individuals have taken, they both have one major thing in common – none of them were there when it happened.

Regardless of the verdict, scores of people who don’t actually know what happened, will take to social media to complain. Sadly, it is those who insist that all farmers are racist or all “Indians” are criminals who get all the media attention. They are all a part of the bigger problem.

I was almost 14 years old when Leo Lachance, a man from my home reserve of Big River was murdered by known white supremacist, Carney Nerland in broad daylight in my hometown of Prince Albert.

As I looked up the date of the Lachance murder, I came across one news source which described Lachance as “having a drinking problem” and that at the time of the shooting, Nerland had been “having a few drinks”. Why was it necessary to state that the deceased man was an alcoholic? Why was Carney Nerland not thought to have “a drinking problem” even though he was drinking on the job in the middle of the day?

Why were people okay with knowing that there was a Saskatchewan branch of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nation and that Nerland was the leader of that group as well as being a member of the Ku Klux Klan?

Just like the aftermath of Leo Lachance’s murder created some uncomfortable but necessary conversations, so has the death of Colten Boushie made light of many issues. They aren’t easy conversations to have, but the most difficult conversations are often the most important.

I try not to point fingers. I understand that I can’t control anyone else. I can only control how I react, or choose not to react.

Parenthood has created a sense of urgency with me in that I need to speak out so that my son grows up in a Saskatchewan that is more tolerant than the province I grew up in.

As it has been pointed out, it appears that Colten Boushie and his friends were indeed doing things that they probably shouldn’t have been doing in the lead up to the shooting. A Facebook commentator from the area proudly stated, “I wish I had the opportunity to kill one of these thieving Indians too!”

I refrained from engaging with the would-be Indian killer.

I refrained from telling him that drinking on back roads and stealing things are not culturally unique practices of Indigenous youth. I grew up with white kids. They taught me how to siphon gas and which roads in the area were the best to go on for a “booze cruise” because there would be no cops.

This is not said to condone the actions of those young people, but to understand that all young people are prone to lapses in judgement and varying degrees of youthful rebellion.
Another commentator, this time a Cree person from the area, stated. “ALL farmers are racist. It’s just a matter of time before they kill more of us.”

I refrained from engaging with this person as well.

I refrained from telling her that those of us who are in the city don’t have to wait up to an hour for police to show up when we call them. I refrained from telling her how violated I felt when our house was broken into and cleaned out when I was a kid. I refrained from reminding her that every farmer I know has at least one firearm in their home and that while stealing is never intelligent, stealing from someone who is armed is even less intelligent.

I refrained from telling her that some of my best friends are farmers and that she is no better than those who hate all “Indians” by painting all farmers with one, hate-filled brush.
I can’t calm fears. I can’t stop hate. I can’t erase 500 years of history in one column.

I can, however, say that by growing too comfortable with the hate and intolerance of our friends and neighbours, we are all somewhat responsible for this current tense climate in this province that I love.

I don’t know what happened that night that Colten Boushie’s life was ended by a bullet from Gerald Stanley’s gun. I can only speak for myself when I say that there is nothing I own that is more valuable than a human life.

Kevin Joseph is a Cree writer. His column appears once a month.

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