From 1876–1898, negotiations between the Crown and the Cree, Assiniboine, and other band societies led to the formation of Treaty 6, establishing the conditions under which land in what is now central Saskatchewan and Alberta was to be shared between Indigenous people and settlers. The treaty was formed with much apprehension by Indigenous leaders; Indigenous communities were already struggling to cope with the famine and disease brought about by settler intrusion, and resulting petty crimes only heightened existing tensions. In 1885, the Crown hanged eight Cree men in Battleford, which is in current-day Saskatchewan, in the largest mass execution in Canadian history.
In response to what had happened, then-Prime Minister John A. Macdonald stated, “The executions of the Indians ought to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs.”
On August 9, 2016, 22-year old Colten Boushie and his friends left the Red Pheasant reserve and wound up in the yard of a local, white farmer named Gerald Stanley. The events immediately leading up to Boushie’s death remain relatively hazy according to court and police records. Stanley said the youth came onto his property to steal, while Boushie’s friends and family maintain they were merely seeking help for a flat tire. Though Boushie’s friends say that Stanley took deliberate aim toward Boushie with his shotgun, Stanley maintains he fired accidentally, a statement viewed with deep suspicion by community members. Boushie died from a gunshot to the head.
When the jury in the Battleford Court of Queen’s Bench declared Stanley not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter, several people in the courtroom reportedly yelled, “Murderer!”
Beginning in 1869, the Red River Resistance marked the struggle of the Métis people to assert their sovereignty against negotiations between Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company, fearing their rights would disappear if Rupert’s Land were to be transferred to Canada’s control.
In 2014, 145 years after the Red River Resistance, 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s body was found in the Red River, her 72-pound frame weighed down with rocks. Like many young Indigenous women who are violently victimized, Fontaine had gone missing prior to her death. Even despite a six-month undercover investigation, Fontaine’s alleged murderer, Raymond Cormier, was acquitted on account of insufficient evidence. The cause of her death remains undetermined.
The cases of Boushie and Fontaine have sparked massive uproar from Indigenous communities across Canada, who argue that the justice system continues to fail to protect Indigenous people from violence. The suppression of Indigenous people, lands, and sovereignty has a long colonial history, and their continued marginalization is often used as a thinly veiled excuse to justify their lesser treatment under the law.
The racial and gendered dynamics underlying Boushie and Fontaine’s deaths cannot be understated. In the Red Pheasant community where Boushie lived, racial tensions have been at a boiling point for decades. Boushie’s murder has been compared to the case of Rodney King, an African-American man brutally beaten by Los Angeles police in 1991, and Marie Baptiste, a member of Boushie’s family, has called her community “the Mississippi of the north.” Tensions between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous farmers underlie interactions in the community, rooted both in racial resentment and in a belief that Indigenous people are responsible for thefts.
Conversely, Fontaine’s death was part of the driving force behind the national inquiry started in December 2015. The inquiry was established following outrage against continued government and police inaction in response to what Indigenous women’s groups believe to be over 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls since the 1980s. Indigenous women continue to face high rates of violence.
Indigenous communities across Canada have expressed strong feelings that the police treat […]
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