Debbie Bapiste and Jade Tootoosis | Image Credit: Melissa Kent, CBC
Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, opens the Hot Docs 2019 International Documentary Festival in Toronto on April 25. Nîpawistamâsowin is a powerful and heartbreaking exploration of the cost of the death of Colten Boushie by Director, Tasha Hubbard (Peepeekisis First Nation); it examines the multiple layers of structural racism embedded in the Canadian judicial system. The documentary brings to light the strength and resilience of the Boushie family who must cope with Colten’s murder in August 2016 by a white Saskatchewan farmer, and the questionable roles that police, prosecutors, the settler community, and social media played in their story.
Hubbard explores the impact that the flawed investigation had on the Boushie family from the trial of Gerald Stanley – Colten’s killer- and the resultant not guilty verdict by the all white jury. The ruling prompted vigils by Indigenous communities across the country condemning and questioning the systemic racism that played a vital part throughout the judicial process. She also documents the emboldened racist comments on social media that both ‘celebrated’ Colten’s death, and the trial’s verdict which was more than difficult for anyone to watch.
“I wish you guys had met Colten. I wish you got to see his smile in person, feel his energy, hear his laugh and see his bashfulness,” said an emotional Jade Tootoosis, Colten’s cousin, in the film. “I wish you knew more about what happened to him and what happened to my family.”
“As you see in the film, could you imagine losing your loved one and seeing those comments [on social media.] It was sickening,” said Hubbard. “That’s not let up for them; they continue to see things that no family should ever have to see when they’ve lost someone. How can that be ok?”
Hubbard chose the title of the film when she was approached by former Métis politician Keith Goulet after she spoke about the film during the 2018 imagineNATIVE Film Festival. Once he explained what nîpawistamâsowin (we stand up for others) meant, she realized what he was saying represented the story she was telling accurately; and that’s what the Boushie family was doing and what she was doing was standing up on behalf of others for a rightful cause- justice for Colten and other Indigenous people treated unfairly by the justice system.
In Nîpawistamâsowin, Hubbard reveals the root of all of this racism through telling the story of “The 1885 Hangings at Battleford” – the town where the trial was held and near to where Colten was killed.The 1885 hangings were rooted in racist stereotypes held against Indigenous people who were rebelling against being starved to death by the Canadian government. The hangings cast a dark shadow on Battleford, a shadow that reverberates today. Racism was deadly in the past and still now, 134 years later.
As a scholar who teaches about the impact of colonial violence, Hubbard made the decision to insert her and her family’s story into the film to give more context about where she was coming from. She emotionally weaves the impact that Colten’s death had on his family, her own family, while echoing the impact it made on the Indigenous community nation-wide. “I kept looking at my son and nephew in the backseat thinking – where are we going? What is it going to be like for them when they get older?” she explained, “It just felt so immediate. That’s what prompted me to put those feelings that I had into the film.”
“[The Boushie family] were put into this unimaginable position and they never sat down, they continue to stand up no matter what,” said Hubbard. “They want things to change. The way they think about it is that their story is done now, but there are other Indigenous people being affected in similar ways, and they really want that to stop.” Structural racism in Canada is deadly for Indigenous people with justice and reparations rarely achieved without Indigenous communities standing up for it. From Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirits (MMIWG2S) to the Seven Fallen Feathers (Indigenous youth) who died going to school in Thunder Bay, to the murder of Tina Fontaine, and to Colten Boushie.
The Boushie family’s story should be a wake up call for settler Canadians. Settlers need to examine their own racial biases when events like this happen, and their personal role in the oppression of Indigenous people: how can they help break this system? As people who benefit from someone else’s oppression do they even want to? If Tasha Hubbard’s documentary shows anything to settler Canadians it is that Indigenous people are resilient and strong and our fight for justice will never go away.
Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, opens the Hot Docs 2019 International Documentary Festival April 25.
BIO: Dr. Tasha Hubbard is a writer, filmmaker and associate professor at the University of Alberta. She is from Peepeekisis First Nation in Treaty Four Territory and has ties to Thunderchild First Nation in Treaty Six Territory. She is also the mother of a 12-year-old son. Her academic research has focussed on Indigenous efforts to return the buffalo to the lands and Indigenous film in North America. Her first solo writing/directing project, Two Worlds Colliding (NFB), about Saskatoon’s infamous “starlight tours,” premiered at imagineNATIVE in 2004 and won the Canada Award at the Gemini Awards in 2005. In 2017, Tasha directed the NFB-produced feature documentary Birth of a Family, about a Sixties Scoop family coming together for the first time during a holiday in Banff. It premiered at Hot Docs and landed on the top-ten audience favourites list. It also won the Audience Favourite for Feature Documentary at the Edmonton International Film Festival and the Moon Jury prize at imagineNATIVE. Her latest feature documentary is nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, a personal exploration of the cost of the death of Colten Boushie.