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Pulpit & Politics
Dennis Gruending

In Saskatchewan, the foolhardy have their day

 

08/31/2016

Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old First Nations man, was shot to death on Aug. 9. He was in a farm yard near Biggar, Sask., about 100 km west of Saskatoon. Gerald Stanley, a 54-year-old farmer, has now been charged with second-degree murder. According to Boushie’s family, he and four friends were returning from swimming at a river when they sought help for a flat tire at a farm. Stanley’s family, meanwhile, issued a statement through their lawyer saying that what occurred on that day is not as simple as what has been portrayed. One assumes that the relevant details will emerge during the trial.

Either way, Boushie’s death has unleashed a torrent of public emotion and comment. On Aug. 18, roughly 200 people gathered peacefully in support of the Boushie family at the North Battleford, Sask., courthouse, where Stanley was arraigned. Elsewhere, a Facebook page called Saskatchewan Farmers Group included racially toxic comments following Boushie’s shooting. One commenter, who wrote that “his (Stanley’s) only mistake was leaving three witnesses,” is the elected reeve of a rural municipality in southern Saskatchewan. The page has since been taken down and the once-outspoken reeve is now unavailable for comment.

Of course, the self-described Farmers Group cannot claim to represent all farmers. The Saskatoon-based National Farmers Union, a modestly sized but well-established organization, issued a news release of their own, condemning racist comments, including those on the Farmers Group page.

The torrent of racist comment on social media was such that Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall pleaded for it all to stop. “Racism has no place in Saskatchewan,” Wall wrote on his Facebook page. His post received more than 500 comments — most of them supportive — but there were others who were unrepentant: “Wanna stop racism? Revamp those obsolete treaties and make every adult in Saskatchewan pay taxes.” Another said: “The very sad truth is that (by) being ‘white,’ we can be discriminated upon more than any other race and no one faces any repercussions.”

These latter two comments capture a sentiment that fuels the antagonism toward First Nations people in our country. The original inhabitants occupied and used the land for tens of thousands of years but were forced by the British Crown — and a succession of Canadian governments — to give most of it up. In the Prairie provinces, they surrendered that land in seven treaties negotiated in the 1870s. As a result, the First Nations were shunted onto small reserves to make way for European settlement. It’s simply ignorant and malicious for the descendants of settlers who benefit from those land surrenders to now say that the treaties should be torn up.

The second comment — that it’s really white people who are discriminated against more than anyone else — is simply not true. How is it that the descendants of settlers whose governments forced First Nations from their land and into poverty can somehow see settlers as the victims? Indeed, the bigots and the foolhardy have had their day. But surely we won’t allow them to prevail in the near and distant future.

Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer and a former member of Parliament. His blog can be found at http://www.dennisgruending.ca. This piece ran as a United Church Observer blog on June 3, 2016.