Like most people, when we heard the not guilty verdict in the Stanley trial, we struggled and continue to struggle to understand how it could have been reached. However, though we are shocked and angered, as scholars and staff who teach and research in Indigenous studies units and who provide support for our units and our students, few of us are surprised. Most Canadians believe deeply in the image of Canada as a fair and tolerant nation. It is the predominant lens through which Canadians view themselves and indeed, through which most of the world views Canada. This verdict gives lie to that myth but we feel it important to remember that little about the Stanley investigation and verdict is exceptional. It needs to instead be understood as yet another link in a centuries-long colonial chain of injustices that Indigenous peoples - and in this instance, prairie Indigenous peoples - are well aware of. Indeed, from the official starvation policies, territorial dispossessions, the hangings following the 1885 resistance and residential school origins of the nineteenth century, to the current overrepresentation of our people in Canada’s child welfare system, jails and prisons, as well as the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Indigenous peoples continue to carry the weight and suffer the effects of these intergenerational policies and the traumas they produced.
As Indigenous studies scholars and staff who stand in resistance to this unjust verdict, we will continue to research and teach about the ways that colonial structures envelop and constrict the possibilities for justice in nearly every instance of injustice as they occur: the incidents themselves; how policing agencies and the justice system responds; how jurors are selected and excluded; the manner in which such incidents are talked about, publicly and in our homes; the eventual (and often, as in this instance, all too predictable) outcomes; and the fact that as Indigenous people, we continue to be forced to seek justice from institutions whose track record demonstrates how ill-equipped they are to offer it. We will continue to research, to teach, to learn, to support our students and to encourage our institutions to do better and to be better. But ultimately, it is up to the rest of Canada to educate themselves: to learn, to unlearn, and to take action to ensure that these incidents are viewed in the full light of day and held up against the same moral compass Canada uses to evaluate other countries.
Finally, we would like to extend our support and condolences to not only the Boushie/Baptiste family, but to the other youth in the car that day who will, undoubtedly, be scarred by this event and succeeding trial for the rest of their lives. We echo the calls to mobilize and to use our voices – and we do so not just in hope of a better Canada (which has never seemed more distant than it does today), but in recognition of the possibilities beyond what Canada seems to be willing to offer Indigenous peoples now.
Dr. Chris Andersen, Dean, Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta Dr. Robert Innes, Head, Department of Indigenous Studies, University of Saskatchewan Dr. Cary Miller, Head, Department of Native Studies, University of Manitoba