Last week I watched the Hollywood film Hostiles.
The opening scene features a group of Indians quietly arriving on a farm, savagely killing a farmer and his children, and attempting to kidnap (to likely rape) the farmer’s wife.
The Indians are later killed, with the widow emptying bullets into a corpse as a kind of retribution.
The reason why these men massacre this "innocent" family is never explained.
In fact, the reasons don’t matter. The message is one of paranoia: that savage Indians are always nearby, hidden, and ready to kill defenceless settlers and take their stuff.
Indians must be controlled is the message of Hostiles. Indians otherwise deserve to die.
In a Saskatchewan courtroom on Friday night a jury told almost the same story, finding farmer Gerald Stanley not guilty of the slaying of 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie.
The facts of the case are as black and white as a trial can get.
On August 9, 2016, Boushie and four friends arrived on Stanley’s farm. The young men state they came for help with a flat tire. Stanley claims they were coming to steal stuff.
Regardless, there was a confrontation. A gun was brandished. The group tried to leave. Stanley says he fired his gun to "scare" them.
Stanley claims his gun then "accidentally" went off, shooting Boushie in the back of the head at point-blank range. The third bullet, he says, was a "hang fire accident" – when a bullet lodges and launches later.
An RCMP forensics expert testified that there was no mechanical dysfunction in the gun.
Stanley’s defence, therefore, is that he aggressively fired, then approached Boushie, and the gun went off on its own.
Into the back of Boushie’s head.
At point blank range.
Even as an expert suggests otherwise.
There are many other factors in this case: of mistreated evidence, of alcohol, of the elimination of Indigenous jurors, and of racism by police telling Boushie’s mom to "get it together" as she lay weeping on the floor after hearing the news.
But in the end, a jury of Canadians condoned the fatal actions of a farmer acting on his paranoia and Colten Boushie is dead.
Indians are hostiles who must be controlled, right?
The slaying of Colten Bushie didn’t start in that Saskatchewan courtroom.
It starts with the Indian Act. The residential school system. The removal of Indigenous communities onto unsuitable reserves, locking communities there with a brutal pass system and controlling every part of our lives from clothing to how to set up our governments.
In Canada’s founding document, the 1867 British North America Act, the federal government states they will take control of "Indians and lands reserved for Indians."
What came afterwards was 150 years of paranoia.
Resulting in the shooting death of Colten Boushie.
What’s most remarkable is during these past 150 years Indigenous peoples have not only resisted all of this but acted in a completely different way.
In response to virtually every single violent act and genocidal policy in Canadian history, we have invited Canada into dialogue and ceremony. Offered a hand in partnership. Stubbornly believed in promises of a "nation to nation" relationship.
Even as we have been lied to, every single time. What we have sought – in virtually every single moment in Canadian history – is relationship. Even at the Oka conflict of 1990 activists were trying to talk to Canada about sharing lands and resources right up until the moment police were ordered to fire their guns.
Indigenous peoples are not here to take anyone’s stuff. We are here to share in the power of a beautiful land. We have lived here far longer than settlers.
All we want is to live in a good way. A healthy and safe way. A place where our homes and children can live this way too.
But we don’t live in that place.
We live in a Hollywood movie.
A place where a Manitoba premier speaks of a "preponderance" of Indigenous men shooting guns at night. Where a mayoral candidate's wife tweets about how "drunk Indians" may assault you at any moment downtown. Where human beings such as J.J. Harper, Helen Betty Osborne, Matthew Dumas, Claudette Osborne, Errol Greene, Brian Sinclair and now Tina Fontaine and Colten Bushie die because a country treats them as an "Indian."
At the end of Hostiles there are almost no Indians left. Just one, a parentless child, about to be raised by non-Indians in a far-off place.
All that’s really left is settlers, riding off into the sunset to inherit the land.
The difference between film and life is Indigenous peoples are not savage Indians.
And we’re not going away. This is our home. Period.
I spend a lot of time wondering how much longer Indigenous peoples will offer peace, kindness, and generosity to a Canada that doesn’t want to change.
Friday night my belief took a massive blow.
Hope is hard to find now.
Niigaan Sinclair is an Associate Professor in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba.