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Hundreds of people answered Indigenous calls for a day of action in response to Friday’s not-guilty verdict in the trial Gerald Stanley, a Saskatchewan farmer who was on trial for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man, at Stanley’s farm.

In Winnipeg, they braved bitter cold and a wind chill of -24 C to gather at The Forks for a peace rally that honoured the Boushie family. They listened solemnly to prayers and calls for reforms to Canada’s justice system made in Cree, Ojibway and English.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Drummers lead the peace rally as they march to and from the Law Courts Building and The Forks.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Drummers lead the peace rally as they march to and from the Law Courts Building and The Forks.

Similar rallies and marches took place across Canada in response to public outrage over the verdict and an overnight social-media campaign that swept the nation in response.

An estimated 500 people filled the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks, many of them Indigenous and many who were not.

"This is a reminder walk, a reminder to this country that we are still here. We are not going anywhere. We are here today to commit to a spirit of change," one rally organizer, University of Manitoba native studies professor Niigaan Sinclair said in opening remarks.

Stanley’s second-degree murder trial wrapped up in North Battleford, Sask., Friday night with the acquittal of the accused. Court heard Stanley fired three shots after an SUV pulled into his farmyard near Biggar, Sask., the night of Aug. 9, 2016 and that the death was accidental.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>A man bears silent witness with his banner at The Forks.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A man bears silent witness with his banner at The Forks.

Many couldn’t understand how the verdict could have been reached.

"I’m here because there is such a sense of injustice," said university professor Shirley Thompson, who marched with an estimated 500 people from The Forks.

By the time the march traced its way with a Bear Clan escort and a couple of truckers with drummers along Broadway to the Law Courts Building, the march had swelled to nearly 1,000.

"This was an all-white jury," the university professor added as she reached the courthouse. "And I’m concerned about the inequality. Not just with justice, but with living standards for Indigenous people in Canada".

Manitoba’s three grand chiefs joined organizers at both locations to urge Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to unite and push for justice reform.

Northern Grand Chief Sheila North told the crowd the Boushie family was aware of the rallies and was gathering strength from the public support.

"We are standing united against violence, against racism and against injustice," North said. Her office issued a joint statement Saturday with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations that said there are many Indigenous mothers who share the pain of the Boushie family, when their children are lost, removed or jailed in Canada.

Assembly of First Nations vice-chief Kevin Hart described the trial and verdict as a "dark day in Canada’s history."

Manitoba’s Leader of the Opposition, NDP leader Wab Kinew, attended the rally along with St. John’s NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine.

"This is very emotional for a lot of people and it’s important to take time to recognize why people are mad. There is a sense as Indigenous people we are not treated like other Canadians who come before the justice system," Kinew said.

By the time a second round of speeches got underway at the doors of the courthouse, some in the crowd openly expressed their frustration, swearing as they shouted.

A ring of women with hand drums sang healing songs in front of the courthouse doors and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas addressed non-Indigenous supporters in the crowd.

"We must not let this go away quietly. Listen to the difficulties we have. We need you to come and advocate on behalf of us because, in the end, you are advocating for yourselves. In a second it can happen to you. We must advocate for change and the only way we can do that is to come together like this," Dumas said.

Organizers initially planned a second stop in the march, at the RCMP D Division headquarters several kilometres to the west on Portage Avenue at Dominion Street, but called the march short at the courts because of the cold.

"You’ve turned out on a very cold day to walk here and that is love. We will keep going forward and continue to call for change," rally organizer Leah Gazan told the crowd before the event wrapped up at the Law Courts.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca