In case you somehow don’t know who he is, Colten Boushie was a young Indigenous man from Saskatchewan who died on an August day in 2016 when a white farmer shot him in the back of the head. The death of this young Cree man shone a spotlight on this country’s vehement racism toward Indigenous peoples, and if that is also news to you, then you really need to see nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up by Saskatchewan-born director Tasha Hubbard.
Hubbard is Cree and grew up with her adopted white family on a farm in Saskatchewan. She recently moved to Edmonton to work at the University of Alberta.
Hubbard says she originally thought she’d write about what had happened to Boushie, as there was a lot for her to reflect on.
“I was thinking about it in terms of what the family was going through, but also seeing it happen in this particular area of the prairies that held so much history, and seeing it in a sort of continuum of that,” she says. “And also thinking about it in a really personal way and looking at my little son and nephew—and they were nine at the time—and wondering how things were going to change or how things were going to intensify in the future.”
“I always thought I could teach the boys how to protect themselves as they grow into men; Colten’s death made me realize I was wrong,” Hubbard says in the film.
But then Hubbard’s fathers’ partner, who is related to Boushie’s family, urged her to consider making a film.
Hubbard’s first hope for nîpawistamâsowin is just that people will watch it.
“I think that there might be times where people are feeling some defensiveness or some resistance, and I just hope that people come in and sit down,” she says.
Once people have committed to seeing the film, Hubbard hopes they take away a different view of Colten Boushie from what was presented in the media and in online comments.
“This film is, at its heart, about families wanting fairness, wanting respect, wanting justice—and deserving it,” she says.
Jade Tootoosis is Boushie’s sister/cousin and also works at the U of A, in the Faculty of Native Studies. She knew Hubbard before the filmmaker approached the family about making a documentary.
It is still clearly difficult for her to speak about what happened, but—as you will see in the film—Tootoosis has become a strong advocate for justice for Indigenous peoples, and she hopes that those who see the documentary will understand the changes that are needed so that families receive justice, but also so that these loses don’t occur in the first place.
“As you watch through the film, these issues have happened over centuries and at some point, we have to say ‘Enough is enough,’” she says.
Tootoosis also emphasizes that it is not up to Indigenous people alone to make change.
“This shouldn’t fall solely on Indigenous peoples or families to have to go through these experiences and bring them to light, but that people across the country also have a responsibility to be a part of those changes that are necessary,” she says. “And one step in doing that is going and taking in our film, taking in the film itself, seeing what we went through, and what we’re advocating for.
“Nothing will ever bring back Colten, but we want to change the narrative and shed light on the beautiful and amazing brother, son, individual that he was.”
Tootoosis and her family have met with politicians such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was Minister of Justice at the time, to talk about what happened and how they would like to see the legal system changed.
Tootoosis says it means something that they met with her and her family the moment they went to Ottawa.
“My understanding is that’s not something common that occurs where such meetings are able to take place so quickly,” she says. “It was the first time my family and I started really speaking out to our experiences with the entire process itself. So a lot of those meetings encompassed us doing mainly the talking—as it should have been—us vocalizing what we went through and how we felt, and what we saw and what we heard, what we were told and what didn’t occur.”
Tootoosis adds that her understanding was that those meetings were initial meetings for the politicians to hear what her family had to say—but she adds that as of yet, there have been no follow up meetings.
She hopes that officials in Ottawa will also watch nîpawistamâsowin, which reiterates her family’s calls to action:
for the United Nations special rapporteur to be invited into, and cooperated with in, an investigation of the judicial system;
for a public inquiry;
for a royal commission on the entire justice system;
and changes to the jury selection process.
One of the issues Colten Boushie’s family has raised is that not a single Indigenous person was included on the jury when Gerald Stanley was tried for, and acquitted of, murdering Colten.
Tootoosis says a bill currently before the Senate that would eliminate peremptory challenges is positive, but she wants to know what exactly will replace those challenges.
“And how is it going to be different?” she says.
nîpawistamâsowin has already won Best Canadian Feature at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto and the Colin Low Award for Canadian Documentary at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, but Hubbard says she didn’t get into documentary filmmaking for recognition or awards.
Still, if a little critical acclaim means more people see the film, that’s not a bad thing.
“I think what’s great about the awards is it’s shining a brighter light on the film than we would have had,” Hubbard says.
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