Big tent needed to achieve reconciliation after Colten Boushie death

21 February 2018

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

Churches can help bring reconciliation after the verdict in the Colten Boushie case by reaching out to both families and communities involved says an Indigenous Catholic leader.

Since Gerald Stanley was found not guilty of second degree murder in Boushie’s Aug. 2016 death, the focus has been on the Indigenous youth’s family, said Harry Lafond, a member of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council (CCAC) and a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.

“If we’re going to think and feel this in terms of Christ’s message, the churches, the faith communities need to reach out to both of these families,” said Lafond. He commended the extended family of Colten Boushie, whose message “was not about revenge, or getting even or anything like that.”

Their message was “we can’t allow Colten Boushie’s life to be without meaning, and the meaning should be about bringing about change where there is injustice in Canada,” said Lafond. “They focused attention on the justice system in Canada, because it is so blatantly Inappropriate to the lives of indigenous peoples.”

“It just does not work for the general indigenous population,” he said. “The evidence is very, very blatant when you go to the jails, to the penitentiaries.”

“I feel great hope from that,” Lafond said. “This family’s gone through a lot and still going through a lot, with social media, almost people feel they are allowed to say whatever they like on social media, and some of it is pretty brutal.”

“For them to come out, expressing that sentiment, they really were showing an amazing leadership for Saskatchewan people and for Canadians.”

The Boushie family also went to Ottawa to speak to the Prime Minister and to ministers, and “continued to provide that leadership,” Lafond said.

“I think the Church needs to pay attention to that, “If we don’t pay attention to that kind of leadership, we’re going to continue to wallow in this racist environment that’s bubbled to the surface since that young man was killed.”

Harry Lafond and his wife Germaine, during a visit to the Apostolic Nunciature in 2016. Lafond is a member of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council and of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

But Lafond said one thing he’s noticed missing in the public response is any recognition of the Stanley family.

“I can’t help but imagine their lives have been turned upside down by this event, whether it was an accident or it was something else, I can’t image Gerald Stanley’s life is going to return prior to that evening when Colten Boushie died.”

Not only has Gerald Stanley’s family, including their internal relationships, been damaged irreparably, so has their livelihood, Lafond said. “All that speaks of great suffering. When we pray or reach out we should be reaching out to both of these families.”

Churches can also find a way for both communities — the Red Pheasant Cree Nation and the surrounding farming community in the Biggar, Saskatchewan area to “walk into the same room and begin to have a relationship not based on hatred, suspicion, and stereotyping.”

“It needs to be something more in keeping with the legacy we inherited: this land is made for everybody and we’re intended to live on it,” Lafond said.

The faith communities of the region need to come together to create an environment for the two communities to “come together in a way that they feel safe and yet can put their realities on the table,” Lafond said.

One of the issues on the table is “rural safety,” and “rural security,” said Lafond. “That’s real. I live out in a rural community, but it’s not a racist thing. It’s a social problem we have in Saskatchewan.”

“If the communities came together, the conversation would reveal we have common issues, common concerns, and thoughts on how we’re dealing with the question of rural safety,” he said. This rural safety issue involves not only the Red Pheasant community, but his own and his neighbors, he said. “We’ve started locking doors in our community. We don’t feel comfortable anymore. A lot of times it’s the urban unrest that comes out of the gangs, the drug stuff.”

“It’s a social issue and we need to deal with it from that perspective,” Lafond said. “Faith communities can really help in beginning to address that problem.”

The Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran bishops of Saskatchewan issued a joint-statement Feb. 15 making a “renewed commitment to pursue meaningful, respectful dialog and the building of positive relationships between all peoples,” so as to “reject the evils of racism and division.”

“The path of peace is more than simply avoiding conflict — it is a call to active engagement and to concrete action that builds right relationships,” the statement said. “Our biblical tradition highlights that violence breeds violence; that the path forward encompasses acting honourably and seeking mutual respect as we address difficult issues together.”

“We acknowledge the message many of us are already hearing from Indigenous people across this province and beyond: ‘Be the change you want to see,’ ” the statement said.

John Somosi, a Métis formerly from Saskatoon now living in Ontario, said the Prairie Provinces are “unique places in Canada,” where “the societal acceptability of racism is quite different.”

“I think it’s vital that we remember the battle against racism isn’t even close in some places in Canada,” said Somosi, who runs Sky Buffalo, a consulting company that raises awareness of Indigenous culture and traditions.

“Sometimes with some of the extreme groups, it’s wrapped in religion and it’s important we shine a flashlight on those dark corners of society so they no longer have power,” said Somosi, who is a former Catholic who now follows Indigenous traditions.

Lafond, however, challenged the notion the prairie provinces are more racist than other parts of Canada, noting there are racist attitudes in every province.

“We’ve started on the superficial stuff, now we have to get to the deep stuff,” said Somosi. “I’m not disheartened by the outcome [of the trial], I kind of expected it.”

“I’m very pleased this conversation can go to a deeper level,” he said. “There was no natives on the jury; they were weeded out.” Because of the high number of Indigenous people in the population, there should have been representation on the jury.

“If the prosecutor weeded out the native people because of their bias, they should have weeded out the people that had hatred in their hearts,” he said. “You can’t see the anger, you can’t see the hatred, the built-in way towards native people in the Prairies.”

Somosi said members of his extended family have remained Catholic “because that’s what the residential schools brought.”

“I’m happy they have a religion to follow, but it creates a rift among the people,” Somosi said. “This religion was forced upon them. There are no easy answers. It took hundreds of years to alter the culture of the native people and the damage that it brought. It’s going to take generations to fix it.”

 – with files from Kiply Lukan Yaworski