There is a moment in Tasha Hubbard’s powerful nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up where the director expresses fear for her son’s future. It is an anxiety that many in the Indigenous community, and those who are visible minorities, know all to well. That haunting sense of dread that one’s child could be a victim of racially charged violence just like Colton Boushie.
On August 9, 2016, Boushie was asleep in the back of a friend’s car when a series of events led the group to the rural property of Gerald Stanley. What unfolded there was quick and devastating. By the end of the evening Boushie, laid lifeless in the vehicle after being shot by Stanley in the back of the head at close range.
Before Boushie’s family could even process the shocking news, a narrative was already being formed on social media. One that shaped Stanley as the true victim and perpetuated the stereotype of Indigenous people as thieves. However, as Hubbard shows in her film, the online reaction was a symptom of a much larger problem.
Using Boushie’s murder as a jumping off point, Hubbard’s film opens a greater conversation about how the roots of racism are dug deep into the soil of Canadian history.
Tracing the injustices all the way back to the federal government’s 1876 Indian Act, which systematically stripped First Nations individuals of their land, identity and cultural practices; Hubbard paints a sobering picture of the staggering racial inequality in Canada. Just as many black parents must sit their young kids down to have “the talk” – a conversation about the history of racism and how it will impact the child – Hubbard must race to prepare her son for what is to come. The scenes in which she is educating her son about the plight of the Indigenous people carries a necessary sense of urgency.
As she acutely states at one point “our people have had a hard time, and those hard times are not done yet.”
The lingering impact of colonialism is perfectly encapsulated in the way nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up details the murder trial and political fallout that ensued after Boushie’s death. Observing the astonishing ways that the RCMP bungled the gathering of evidence at the crime scene, and the harsher scrutiny applied to the Indigenous witnesses than to Stanley, the film effectively captures the dangerous ways racism has embedded itself into the Canadian legal system.
The result is a system that essentially victimizes First Nations communities, rather than protect them, all over again.
Watching how the grieving Boushie family must constantly relive that fateful night when talking to the media and numerous politicians is heart-wrenching. As Hubbard points out in several of nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up’s intimate moments, their story is sadly all too common. It is yet another example of a faulty system that is in desperate need of change at all levels.