The death of a young Cree man in August 2016 was like a flaming car crash along Canada’s pothole-filled road to reconciliation.
Colten Boushie was only 22 when he was shot in the back of the head by a Saskatchewan farmer, Gerald Stanley, after a group of his friends drove onto Stanley’s property while Boushie was asleep in the back seat.
In the wake of the killing, social media starkly illustrated the cultural divide between outraged Canadians who saw Boushie as a helpless victim and those who shouted their support for the gun-toting landowner.
“Everyone I knew was deeply affected by it,” recalled Peepeekisis First Nation filmmaker Tasha Hubbard on the line from her home in Edmonton. “It was all we were talking about, right? So I was going to write a blog.”
Then, on the day of Boushie’s funeral, her father called to say his wife was really upset because Boushie was her nephew. They wanted to visit Hubbard just to get away. After they arrived and Hubbard informed them that she was going to write about Boushie’s death, the couple had another idea.
“They said, ‘You should make a film. You’re a filmmaker. This is going to be an important story,’ ” said Hubbard, who is also a University of Alberta associate professor. “We all felt that.”
That was the origin of nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, a compelling documentary about the death of Boushie—and Stanley’s controversial acquittal on a second-degree-murder charge in 2018.
Hubbard captures the grief of Boushie’s family members, including his mother, Debbie Baptiste, as they describe how their home was practically invaded by Mounties. One officer was curious to know if Baptiste had alcohol on her breath. The film shows the profound impact that racist comments on social media had on Boushie’s cousin, Jade Tootoosis. It reveals the hopes that Saskatchewan’s Indigenous community placed in the justice system, even after any potential First Nations jurors were vetoed by Stanley’s defence team.
The documentary, which premiered at Hot Docs in Toronto, also highlights many aspects of Boushie’s personality, including his childhood love of science. Viewers learn about the narrative presented in court by Stanley’s legal team. And it emphasizes the Boushie family’s steadfast resolve to seek a royal commission on structural racism in the justice system—going all the way to the United Nations.
“Indigenous people speak out about these things and they’re often met by denial or justification or minimizing,” Hubbard said. “It’s tough to take because what’s at stake here are our children. What’s at stake here is what does our future look like?”
But Hubbard didn’t want nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up to simply focus on the Boushie family. Rather, she places Boushie’s story in the context of the appalling historical oppression of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous people. This entailed an exploration of colonizers’ use of hunger as a weapon, the 1885 hangings of eight Indigenous men at Battleford, and the role of the North West Mounted Police in imposing control over the region. Some of these scenes are depicted through animation, which Hubbard felt was a gentler way to convey a “very hard history”.
She hopes nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up speaks to young Indigenous people, including her son and nephew. They appear in several parts of the film, most notably in an emotional scene in the RCMP Heritage Centre archives in Regina.
“How do I explain the way that our history has been that’s not overwhelming for a child?” Hubbard said. “Most of Canada also has never really learned this before.…I wanted it to be truthful.”
What makes this film unique is how Hubbard integrates her own story as an Indigenous woman raised in a white home and as a single mom who has also reconciled with her birth family. She brings forward the voices of her white adoptive grandfather and her Indigenous father while never losing sight of the future for Indigenous kids.
“I just felt that I wanted to be honest about how this was affecting all of us who live in the Prairies,” Hubbard said.
nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up screens at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival at the SFU Woodward’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts next Wednesday (May 8) and at the Vancity Theatre next Thursday (May 9).