OTTAWA (CCN) — Churches can help facilitate reconciliation after the verdict in the Gerald Stanley case by reaching out to both families and communities involved, says an indigenous Catholic leader.
Since Stanley was found not guilty of second degree murder in Colten Boushie’s August 2016 death, the focus has been on the indigenous youth’s family, said Harry Lafond, a member of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council (CCAC) and a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.
“If we’re going to think and feel this in terms of Christ’s message, the churches, the faith communities need to reach out to both of these families,” said Lafond. He commended the extended family of Colten Boushie, whose message “was not about revenge, or getting even or anything like that.”
Their message was, “we can’t allow Colten Boushie’s life to be without meaning, and the meaning should be about bringing about change where there is injustice in Canada,” said Lafond. “They focused attention on the justice system in Canada, because it is so blatantly inappropriate to the lives of indigenous peoples.”
“It just does not work for the general indigenous population,” he said.
“This family’s gone through a lot and still going through a lot, with social media, almost people feel they are allowed to say whatever they like on social media, and some of it is pretty brutal,” said Lafond. “. . . (the family) really were showing an amazing leadership for Saskatchewan people and for Canadians.”
The Boushie family also went to Ottawa to speak to the prime minister and to ministers, and “continued to provide that leadership,” Lafond said. “I think the church needs to pay attention to that, “If we don’t pay attention to that kind of leadership, we’re going to continue to wallow in this racist environment that’s bubbled to the surface since that young man was killed.”
But Lafond said one thing he’s noticed missing in the public response is any recognition of the Stanley family. “I can’t help but imagine their lives have been turned upside down by this event, whether it was an accident or it was something else, I can’t image Gerald Stanley’s life is going to return prior to that evening when Colten Boushie died.”
Not only has Stanley’s family, including their internal relationships, been damaged irreparably, so has their livelihood, Lafond said. “All that speaks of great suffering. When we pray or reach out, we should be reaching out to both of these families.”
Churches can also find a way for both communities — the Red Pheasant Cree Nation and the surrounding farming community in the Biggar, Sask., area — to “walk into the same room and begin to have a relationship not based on hatred, suspicion, and stereotyping.”
“It needs to be something more in keeping with the legacy we inherited: this land is made for everybody and we’re intended to live on it,” Lafond said.
The faith communities of the region need to come together to create an environment for the two communities to “come together in a way that they feel safe and yet can put their realities on the table,” Lafond said.
One of the issues on the table is “rural safety,” and “rural security,” said Lafond. “That’s real. I live out in a rural community, but it’s not a racist thing. It’s a social problem we have in Saskatchewan.”
“If the communities came together, the conversation would reveal we have common issues, common concerns, and thoughts on how we’re dealing with the question of rural safety,” he said. This rural safety issue involves not only the Red Pheasant community, but his own and his neighbours, he said. “We’ve started locking doors in our community. We don’t feel comfortable anymore. A lot of times it’s the urban unrest that comes out of the gangs, the drug stuff.”
“It’s a social issue and we need to deal with it from that perspective,” Lafond said. “Faith communities can really help in beginning to address that problem.”
The Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran bishops of Saskatchewan issued a joint statement Feb. 15 making a “renewed commitment to pursue meaningful, respectful dialogue and the building of positive relationships between all peoples,” so as to “reject the evils of racism and division” (see PM, Feb. 21).
John Somosi, a Métis formerly from Saskatoon now living in Ontario, said the Prairie Provinces are “unique places in Canada,” where “the societal acceptability of racism is quite different.”
“I think it’s vital that we remember the battle against racism isn’t even close in some places in Canada,” Somosi, who runs Sky Buffalo, a consulting company that raises awareness of indigenous culture and traditions.
Lafond, however, challenged the notion the Prairie Provinces are more racist than other parts of Canada, noting there are racist attitudes in every province.
— with files from Kiply Lukan Yaworski