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February 14, 2018

'I don't have any hope tonight' says U of M Native studies prof after Gerald Stanley acquittal

Sask. farmer had been charged in the August 2016 shooting of Indigenous man Colten Boushie

A Manitoba professor of Native studies says he's struggling to find hope for reconciliation in Canada after a Saskatchewan farmer was acquitted Friday night in the 2016 death of a young Indigenous man.

"This is a night when you want to give up hope. This is a night when you believe, what's the point of it? What's the point of trying to change a country that doesn't want to change?" said Niigaan Sinclair, when CBC News reached him half an hour after the verdict was delivered.

"What's the point of trying to talk about hope, relationships, and changing 150 years of violence when the violence just continues? I don't have any hope tonight.

"And on a personal level, I don't know how I can speak and try to give others hope that there's a future when I see a decision like this."

Gerald Stanley, 56, was charged with second-degree murder in August 2016 death of Colten Boushie, 22.

On Friday evening, the Battleford Court of Queen's Bench jury returned its verdict, one day after deliberations began.

Boushie and four other young people from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation reserve drove onto Stanley's rural property in an SUV on Aug. 9, 2016.

An altercation occurred between them, and members of the Stanley family.

Stanley testified during the trial and said he did not mean to shoot anyone. He said the handgun he was holding accidentally went off, shooting Boushie in the head. Expert witnesses testified the pistol was functioning normally and the handgun could only be fired by pulling the trigger.

Sinclair said he and his family were sitting together waiting to hear the verdict when it came just after 7:30 p.m. CT.

"I go around the country talking about how Manitoba and Saskatchewan are sites of reconciliation and sites of promise and hope, and this completely blows all of that away," he said.

"In the next three months, I have 15, 16 cities I'm going to. I'm probably speaking to about 10,000 people in the next three months and I don't know what to say."

After the jury delivered its verdict, many Canadians took to social media sites with posts about the ruling. Many used the hashtag #JusticeForColten.

Plans also began forming on Facebook pages for protests in cities across the country, including Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary.

Sinclair called the ruling "unbelievable yet believable."

"This case is black and white, and it is evidence of what 150 years of genocidal policies get you. It is what relationships look like on the ground level when it comes to creating a culture of superiority and a people who are taught to feel inferior," he said.

"It is 150 years of intersections culminating in a moment, and this moment is exactly what this country has created."

Manitoba leaders respond

Manitoba Indigenous leaders weighed in on the verdict Friday night.

Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the decision cannot stand.

"I'm actually concerned as an Indigenous person of the message that this is sending out to the country," he said.

Dumas said he plans to raise funds for Colten Boushie's family to appeal.

"Hopefully we can have some kind of a co-ordinated response to this issue."

Sheila North, Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said people want to trust the justice system, but cases like Stanley's raise doubts in their minds.

"It's not in people's imaginations that the justice system seems skewed against Indigenous people and we have to reverse that. We have to change that. Because even the optics doesn't sit right," she said. "And it doesn't bring any value or confidence in a justice system when we see it stacked against Indigenous people the way it is."

She said she's gotten messages from across the country of strong but mixed emotions.

"I have many mixed emotions. But mostly my heart breaks for the family of Colten Boushie and his friends and his community," North said.

"This is not the outcome anyone expected and we have to remember this is a real case that's affecting a real family and not just a media report."

She's worried what will come out of the second-degree murder trial of Raymond Cormier, who is accused in the death of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl from Winnipeg.

"We have to look at all of that and all of it is relevant. And the reality that we are facing is that racism is ugly and we need to address it."

"My heart goes out to the family and community that surrounds Colten Boushie, even after he's passed. The anger they're feeling tonight is justified. Many of us are angry," said Nahanni Fontaine, the justice critic for the Manitoba NDP, in an email statement sent to CBC News by a spokesperson.

"We have a lot of work to do to fight racism and create better relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, and as the reaction to this judgment shows, tonight we did not take a step in the right direction. We understand that appeal options are being considered, and I'm sure they will be explored to their fullest."

With files from Guy Quenneville, Jason Warick and Tessa Vanderhart

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