The words “We love Colten Boushie” were scraped into the snow at the base of the healing totem in downtown Whitehorse on Feb. 13.
At noon, approximately 100 people made a circle around those words, responding to the Boushie family’s call for peaceful protest to the not guilty verdict in the case of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley.
It was one of dozens of rallies held cross Canada in the wake of the verdict, delivered Feb. 9.
In August 2016, Boushie, from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation, was killed by a gunshot to the head when he and four friends drove a vehicle on to Stanley’s farm.
Stanley testified he thought the youths were stealing his ATV. He also testified the shooting was the accidental result of a hang-fire — a delayed discharge that the Crown’s firearms expert said is rare, and usually happens within a second.
An apparently all-white jury found Stanley not guilty, which has sparked debate about racism in Canada, and the treatment of Indigenous people by the Canadian justice system.
“I think, collectively, we all felt hurt,” said Angela Code, who co-organized the Whitehorse rally. “We felt angry. We felt the injustice and it’s a feeling that many of us have felt many times before and it’s not right. For years it seemed like things were getting better. And I do believe that they are slowly, but after that verdict last week, it just felt like a big slap in the face.”
Code, from the Sayisi Dene First Nation, called the verdict disheartening.
“I lost a little faith in our humanity and in our Canadian society,” she said before inviting people to speak in support of one another and Indigenous people across the country.
Some spoke to how it’s an uncomfortable conversation, but one that’s necessary. Some sang songs and said love is what’s needed, not more hate. Others spoke too quietly and tearfully to be heard.
Táän Kwách’än elder Shirley Adamson, who opened the rally with a prayer, said it can seem like Boushie’s death is something that happened a long way away, but it’s something Indigenous people live with every day.
She said she wishes Stanley strength on the day he has to stand before his creator and answer what gave him the right to take a life.
Writer Gurdeep Pandher said that as an immigrant from a minority community, he too knows racism. He urged education, and getting to know your neighbours, saying that when people don’t try to learn, they fear, and fear feeds racism.
Tosh Southwick, a member of the wolf clan of the Kluane First Nation, said she wanted to thank everyone who showed up.
“I want to thank you as a mother,” she said as she stood in the centre of the circle.
“Because I woke up on Saturday morning not knowing what I was going to say to my 17-year old son about what had happened. And I’m going to point to him today and say ‘look at this. This is how many people came out to say what happened was not OK. What happened was not right and that he is just as important as everybody else in this world and he is damn more important than an ATV.’”
She asked everyone to leave the rally committed to an act of reconciliation, saying education was going to be a necessary tool.
Code agreed. She said it’s tiring, as an Indigenous person, to carry the responsibility of educating others. Sometimes, she said, people have to educate themselves.
“It would be a hell of a lot easier if we did it together,” she said.
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