The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Before you click away, we have something to ask you…

Do you value independent journalism that focuses on the issues that matter? Do you think Canada needs more in-depth, fact-based reporting? So do we. If you’d like to be part of the solution, we’d love it if you joined us in working on it.

The Tyee is an independent, paywall-free, reader-funded publication. While many other newsrooms are getting smaller or shutting down altogether, we’re bucking the trend and growing, while still keeping our articles free and open for everyone to read.

The reason why we’re able to grow and do more, and focus on quality reporting, is because our readers support us in doing that. Over 5,000 Tyee readers chip in to fund our newsroom on a monthly basis, and that supports our rockstar team of dedicated journalists.

Join a community of people who are helping to build a better journalism ecosystem. You pick the amount you’d like to contribute on a monthly basis, and you can cancel any time.

Help us make Canadian media better by joining Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Indigenous Affairs
Rights + Justice

Colten Boushie and Settlers’ Justice

Verdict in killing shows deeply embedded racism in legal system and society.

By David MacDonald 13 Feb 2018 |

David MacDonald is a professor of political science and Research Leadership Chair for the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences at the University of Guelph. This article first appeared in The Conversation here.

The decision by an all-white jury, presided over by a white judge, to acquit the killer of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, is a severe test of the settler-based Canadian legal system.

It’s nice that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged “the grief and sorrow the Boushie family is feeling tonight” while also “sending love to them.” But it’s time to step things up — including an overhaul of how juries are selected, an inquiry to ensure that Indigenous victims are not treated as criminals, and a deep investigation into embedded racism within the police forces and the courts.

Those of us who are settlers must take responsibility for our institutions and stand with Indigenous peoples to ensure they can implement their own justice systems. Clearly ours are working all too well, but in destructive ways.

Media accounts provide a good overview of how Boushie’s friends were held and interrogated in August 2016 by RCMP, which then released a statement intimating his friends might have been thieves.

Boushie’s friend Belinda Jackson, taken into police custody before she provided a statement, did not sleep or eat for 19 hours. Boushie’s mother Debbie Baptiste was told to “get herself together” after being informed her son had been killed.

Is it normal for police to tell you that your son is dead, imply you have a drinking problem, and then search your home for clues? It seems so in Saskatchewan. The police acted as if they were an army of occupation in someone else’s home.

What does colonization and occupation look like? Statistically like this: In mid-2016, Maclean’s surveyed the 265 most powerful positions in Saskatchewan’s legal, educational, business and legislative systems: 4.5 per cent of positions were filled by Indigenous peoples. Only two of 101 judges are Indigenous — in a province where 81 per cent of inmates in provincial jails are Indigenous.

A recent poll indicated Saskatchewan residents viewed the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people more negatively than anywhere else in Canada, and 41 per cent of respondents blamed “Aboriginal peoples” for inequalities and problems. Saskatchewan was also the home of the last federally funded Indian Residential School. One of its survivors, Darren Maxie, told Maclean’s “It is their system, not ours… Every institution belongs to them. We are not allowed in.”

Maxie’s observation rang true over the course of the murder trial of white farmer Gerald Stanley. Boushie’s family filed five complaints against the RCMP for their mistreatment and petitioned for a Crown prosecutor from outside the province to lead the case.

The larger context of this acquittal is cultural genocide — even genocide as defined by the United Nations. Over two years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded cultural genocide had been committed in the Indian Residential Schools system. Because of its mandate, the TRC could go no further, although commissioners also articulated the case for the violation of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Genocide.

We can see the residential schools as genocide and the use of starvation tactics to “clear the plains” of Indigenous peoples, a term popularized by James Daschuk in his book Clearing the Plains.

Echoes of the past

In 1991, a notorious racist from Prince Albert stood trial for the killing of Cree trapper Leo LaChance. LaChance walked into a pawn shop owned by Carney Nerland, only to be shot in the back and killed by Nerland.

Nerland claimed he accidentally fired his rifle because he did not know there was a bullet in the chamber. Sound familiar? Gerald Stanley provided a similar justification for his “accidental” shooting of Boushie. Nerland, head of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian Aryan Nations, was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to four years.

In this small world of prairie law, the presiding judge over the Stanley trial was Martel Popescul, who also represented the RCMP in the Nerland trial. After that trial, many rightly called for an inquiry to investigate the extent to which Nerland’s racism was a factor in Lachance’s killing, an inquiry Popescul sought to block on behalf of the RCMP, arguing that police informants might be exposed.

The Stanley decision demonstrates yet again that not only are white farmers above the law, but young Indigenous men may well be below it. That is, they cannot rely on the protection of settler law because it is not designed to protect them.

The basis of this goes way back to the Doctrine of Discovery — the 15th century belief that Europeans “discovered” North America and gained sovereignty and title despite the fact Indigenous peoples had occupied and used the land for many millennia. Because this doctrine remains embedded in Canadian law, racist violence may continue indefinitely unless we stop it.

Even south of the border, where guns proliferate, between 2010 and 2014 there were no justifiable homicides involving American Indians either as victims or shooters, according to a Violence Policy Center report from last May.

Stolen land

In a different world, Colten Boushie might have owned his own farm. It did not just “mysteriously” happen that most of the farmers in Saskatchewan are white or that the legal system is dominated by settlers. Indigenous peoples were prohibited by the 1867 Indian Act from homesteading on the prairies. In section 70 we had “Disabilities and Penalties,” confining Indigenous families to a maximum of 160 acres for a family of five (much less for smaller families). By contrast, settlers could gain free land: “160 to 320 acres per head of family.”

This is connected to many other issues, such as the pass system, which kept Indigenous people from selling or trading without permission, the residential schools, which took Indigenous children from their families, and the ’60s scoop, when Indigenous children were again taken, partially on the basis that their families couldn’t support them.

The 'disappearing Indian?’

Much was made about Boushie and his friends having had too much to drink on the day he was killed. The concept of “drunken Indians stealing” from white settlers also goes back to the early days of colonization. In 1868, federal laws prohibited Indigenous peoples from purchasing or consuming alcohol. Under the Indian Act, even possessing alcohol was illegal. This was only formally changed by an amendment in 1985.

In her recent book Dying from Improvement, Sherene Razack observes that as settlement proceeded westward, Indigenous peoples were marked “materially and symbolically” as bodies who were “not up to the challenge of modern life, a condition that leaves the settler as ‘legitimate heir to the land.’”

Myths of the inevitability of Indigenous disappearance allowed settlers to evade responsibility for the negative impacts of colonization since they are only there to promote western civilization and law, while Indigenous peoples are “dying due to an inherent incapacity to survive modern life.” It seems that even when a white farmer pulls a trigger, these types of ingrained myths continue to be influential.

The jury could have found Stanley guilty of manslaughter: “A homicide committed without the intention to cause death, although there may have been an intention to cause harm.” With a firearm involved, the minimum sentence is four years. Nerland received four years in prison and served three. Stanley is free and gained almost $90,000 in two days from almost 1,200 people through online crowdfunding.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in Call to Action 45, called on the federal government to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery while implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Thanks to the stellar efforts of MP Romeo Saganash, Bill C-262, “An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with UNDRIP” has just been passed in the House of Commons.

This bill won’t change attitudes but can shift the underlying laws and the frameworks for making policy and ensuring Indigenous peoples and settlers who support them can make sure that there are no more miscarriages of justice.

The Conversation  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other


The Barometer

Tyee Poll: What Coverage Would You Like to See More of This Year?

Take this week's poll