On Tuesday February 13, a crowd of about 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered at Norman Bethune Square in Montreal near Concordia University to commemorate the life of Colten Boushie and raise awareness about the injustice in the trial following his death. Boushie, a young Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation, was killed by Gerald Stanley, a 56-year-old white man, in Saskatchewan in August 2016. Last week, on February 9, despite overwhelming evidence indicating Stanley’s guilt, an all-white jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder.
Across the country, the verdict served as a stark reminder of the failures of Canada’s criminal justice system for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people. The decisions made during the process of this trial reflect Canada’s lasting colonial justice system. The vigil, co-hosted by the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal , was planned before the release of the verdict.
During the vigil, a powwow singing group, The Buffalo Hat Singers, and the drum carrier, Norman Achneepineskum, a member of the Cree nation, began the ceremony. Many individuals in attendance brought candles and signs of protest, emphasizing the two pronged message behind the vigil. These signs depicted a picture of Colten in his graduation gown, captioned Justice for Colten. The event was accompanied by approximately twenty police officers. Near the centre of the crowd, people wore black armbands embroidered with “Justice for Colten” in white. Opening the vigil was co-chair of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, Vicky Baldo. Baldo is a survivor of the Sixties Scoop; a practice of the Canadian government during the 1960s that placed Indigenous children in adoption centers and white foster homes.
Another speaker, Clifton Ariwakehte Nicholas, discussed Canada’s treatment of young Indigenous men, highlighting this with his personal experiences of loss. “Last year [my nephew] Clint killed himself. He could not live in the world for the modern Indian man […] since [Colten’s] verdict came down, it feels as if that was my child that was shot down.” He continued, “I don’t want [my] rage to translate into more violence, I want it to translate into change.”