What have we learned from living next to each other? Most of us have learned to tolerate each other whilst at the same time forming friendships with neighbours, respecting each others way of life and for the most part, looking out for each other. As cities grow and towns/farms multiply, people become wealthier and obtain more and more stuff they call valuables. Although valuables can be considered jewelry, paintings, cars or equipment, when you ask any parent what the value most, they will say their children. You can’t put a price on a child and the loss of one is devastating. You would offer up all your possessions to get them back.
Living in Canada, we can sometimes take much for granted. We have clean drinking water, a great health care system, protection and security. Now imagine that you are Indigenous and that the country your ancestors have always lived in doesn’t make you feel welcome and makes you feel devalued. If you ask any Indigenous person, they will tell you about injustice, they will tell you about a government that refuses to listen to their needs and they will tell you about lack of faith for change. The impacts of a system that lacks the ability to recognize the basic rights of Indigenous People are far reaching. The highway of tears, suicide and third world conditions on reservations. How loud do you have to ring the bell to get the governments attention? In a country where we are told to be proud and be committed to welcoming all visitors and immigrants, we’ve forgotten to honour the Indigenous People that were here before us. They should always come first but as most people are aware, this is far from reality.
Filmmaker Tasha Hubbard has made the documentary, We Will Stand Up that encompasses the flawed system and injustice for Indigenous People surrounding the shooting death of Colten Boushie. The film is coming to Vancouver and can be seen at Vancity Theatre from May 31 – June 5. Tasha is a writer, filmmaker and associate professor at the University of Alberta. She is from Peepeekisis First Nation in Treaty Four Territory and has ties to Thunderchild First Nation in Treaty Six Territory. She has made two previous films, Two Worlds Colliding, which won the Canada Award at the Gemini’s in 205 and Birth of a Family which has also won awards. She is a mother and is deeply concerned about her child’s future and the future of Indigenous People. She was very generous in taking the time to talk to us about the documentary and spreading the message that Indigenous lives matter and the government needs to do more. We all do.
“Why did you decide to make this film?”
“Like many others, I was shocked to hear about the circumstances of Colten Boushie’s death and also the way it was portrayed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well as the social media response. There were also elected officials celebrating the death of this young man. I was concerned about how the story would be told moving forward and was encouraged by my dad’s wife (whose related to the family) to make the film. There are times when you don’t feel like you’re the right person to tell the story but then there are those times when you just know you need to tell it. That is how this one felt.”
“How were you able to collect so much footage surrounding the trial?”
“Everything with the family was our camera. I took a lot of time establish a relationship with the family. In any documentary there’s time taken to establish a relationship to see if someone is willing to have you along. We’d spent upward of a year and a half prior to the trial starting. By that time they were really comfortable with us and we were able to be responsive. We were lucky to have the budget to go to Ottawa and have permission from the family to film. Nobody really said no but there were a few situations where we we’re limited to the length of time we could film.”
“What is the message you hope for the audience to walk away with?
“There’s a few messages, I think on one level Indigenous people have had their humanity obscured and denied. From systems to media, through popular culture and the education system. On a basic human level I want people to see Colten as a fully realized human being who was loved and had dreams. He understood his situation and the things he wanted in this life. He had a mother and a family who loved him and that seems to have been denied throughout this entire process by people that call themselves good Christians but can still turn on a family in grief. That’s a big part of it but I also believe that the story told to the public about how Canada was settled is not the full story and not the true story. We have a lot of rhetoric around the truth and reconciliation. This is about the truth and Indigenous peoples perspectives and knowledge on our experiences and hopefully that’s not dismissed.”
“Has the government taken any steps to ensure Indigenous people are better respected and protected from incidences like this happening again?”
“It’s hard to know. I think it was a big step in introducing the bill that changes the way that lawyers can inspect their challenges. I think it’s a small step and we’re seeing that carried through but there is much more that can be done. I think this is a situation where these recommendations on how to change the justice system. I think there’s a lot of work that needs to happen.”
“Do you believe that there is lack of representation for Indigenous people in Parliament?”
“Yes, there hasn’t been Indigenous People in great numbers but Parliament is just one system. Indigenous People have their own system that needs to be honoured and valued. I think there needs to be steps taken so that laws and relationships that Indigenous People have aren’t overridden and dismissed, the way they have been.”
“How has this story impacted your life, if any?”
“I will say this. Since I’ve come back to Macayshaunly as a teenager, I’ve spent 30 years of my life making up for the knowledge I didn’t get in the first 16 years. The myths that I was taught in the first 16 years was that Canada is fair, Canada is just and that police are there to help you. All of those do not apply for Indigenous People. I’ve been learning that in many different ways as well as making up for the humungous gaps that were in my education up to then. Knowing that Canada is a Colonial country is not new for me and for most Indigenous People we know this stuff and we know that these attitudes exist. Indigenous People bare the brunt of the racist actions and rhetoric. I think what I didn’t know/realize before that really concerns me was the emboldenment of those people and their attitudes/the willingness to completely dismiss peoples humanity. When I first started the project, I spent my evenings reading social media comments and people celebrating a persons death. Those comments are now part of the film. The common myth is that these are obscure hardcore rite men. Not the case, I’ve spent the time tracking down their profiles to find where they worked and lived. These are our neighbours, people I see at the grocery store, people my son encounters at his school. These are everyday people with these attitudes and as Canadians; everyone needs to be concerned about this. We need to challenge those attitudes. Many people have heard them in conversations but very few people will stand up and say something and that needs to change.”
“Did you try to reach out to Stanley’s family for any input on the film?
“The story of Canada and the story Canada tells has always been from the non Indigenous view. It’s very rare that you hear it from an Indigenous perspective; it’s really tragic how rare that is. That’s what I was most concerned about; what is their experience going to be and how are they going to be treated. Given how the RCMP had started this, I’d hoped things would be better but of course they weren’t. That was the priority and it’s a Point of View documentary. For me, I just really wanted to follow this family and what their experience was. It’s more about Colten and the verdict. It’s part of it but it’s more than that.”
“Do you know if an appeal is hopeful?”
“The province declined to appeal, so that’s it. The thing is, the Crown took the unprecedented step of holding a press conference to announce that they were not going to appeal. From what I’ve been told, that’s never happened before and I’d be very curious to know what their thoughts were on that.”
“Do you believe Saskatchewan farmers have more racist views toward the Indigenous people than other provinces?”
“It’s Canada wide. I can’t say that enough. Ask any Indigenous person from any corner of this country and they will tell you it exists everywhere. I’ve had this conversation before where people will say, ‘when it came time for settlement we didn’t go to war with Indigenous People.’ But you did and then you starved us to death, so how is that better? It’s Colonialism and it’s ugly. It was an entire continent and people need to have a really good look at themselves, their attitudes and beliefs and question; how did I come to think this way? Question the systems that exist and other functions regarding fairness. One thing Indigenous People have always known is that fairness is a myth.”
“When did the National Film Board become involved in the making of the film?”
“It was very early on. I was actually finishing my first feature in August of 2016. I was in contact with the NFB and first spoke with Bonnie Thompson, long time producer and told her what had happened, that I have access and what I wanted to do. At that point I still hadn’t had permission from the family but had an agreement from my dads wife that she’d help me with talking with them about it. We decided early on that it would be a coproduction. It was my first time producing and directing, so that’s the way we went.”
“What do you believe the government needs to do to ensure this doesn’t happen again?”
“I think they need to reread the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples from the 1990’s. They need to listen to Indigenous People that have been advocating for changes for decades. Bring them in and listen to them. Have the political will and strength to make those changes. That hasn’t happened yet. They’re still operating on certain assumptions around the value of Indigenous People. When you have a system that’s set up on the premise of ‘deny humanity/deny agency’ that’s going to take some major change to turn that around and it has to happen. The Saskatchewan government just passed Strength and Trespass laws that state, someone has to ask permission to enter someone’s property. It’s not like that anywhere else in the country. This is privileging the notion of property beyond anything else and valuing a piece of equipment over people’s lives. It’s worrying for sure.”
“Did you attempt to contact the boys that were with Colten that day?”
“No, I didn’t want to add to their burden. They had already been through enough and I didn’t have the same relationship with them that I had with the family. When you’re making a film you have to make choices about how you’re going to tell that story. The decision was made that it be told from an Indigenous families point of view and what the situation was like. We made a couple of exceptions to that, such as the young Indigenous man, Patrick that was dismissed as a potential jury member. It seemed that he was dismissed merely because he was Indigenous. The family was painfully hurt by that.”
Much more needs to be done to ensure that all Indigenous People are heard and their concerns are met with solutions. Ho can we call ourselves proud Canadians if we don’t respect everyone’s basic rights and protections. In closing, I’d like to let Tasha Hubbard have the last word.
“When I first heard about Colten’s death people start to talk about who the person is. From several various sources I was told that he was known for being helpful, known for being kind and respectful. No one deserves what happened there.
Colten Boushie was 22 years young.