Colten Boushie documentary examines history of racism, oppression on the Prairies

TORONTO — Documentary filmmaker Tasha Hubbard didn't know Colten Boushie, but when she heard about the killing of the young Indigenous man, it was all she could think about.

Boushie, a 22-year-old member of the Red Pheasant First Nation, died from a gunshot to the back of his head after the vehicle he was in with friends drove onto a rural farm property near Biggar, Sask., in August 2016.

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Last year a jury acquitted farmer Gerald Stanley of second-degree murder after he testified his gun went off accidentally when he was trying to scare off young people who were on his property.

The case sparked racial tensions, rallies and hateful online comments, and Saskatchewan-raised Hubbard, who is Cree, recalls being stunned by news of his death while driving with her son and nephew, who were both nine at the time.

She first felt grief for the family and then wondered, "What is this going to mean for the young boys in my life?"

"I just kept looking at them and thinking, 'How are you going to be viewed when you're 22?'" Hubbard, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, said in a recent phone interview.

"The social media response to celebrating a young person's death was just so disgusting. It's like, 'Is that really how we're viewed?'"

Hubbard ended up making a personal documentary about the case. "Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up" makes its world premiere Thursday as the opening-night film for the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, which runs through May 5.

The film will also screen at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, which runs May 2-12.

Hubbard narrates and appears in the doc, which looks at the inequity and racism in the Canadian legal system that came to light through the trial, and the Boushie family's pursuit of justice.

The director, writer and producer also puts the lens on her own life as she examines the history of colonialism on the Prairies and what kind of future is in store for her son and nephews.

The word "nîpawistamâsowin" in the film title means "a small group of people standing up for themselves or standing up on behalf of the larger group," said Hubbard.

Hubbard is from Peepeekisis First Nation in Treaty Four Territory and has ties to Thunderchild First Nation in Treaty Six Territory.

In the film she explains she was adopted and raised by a homesteading family in southern Saskatchewan.

Her birth dad, whom she got to know as a teen, lives on Red Pheasant and is married to Colten's aunt. And Colten's cousin, Jade Tootoosis, is married to Hubbard's cousin. But Hubbard said she wasn't close with the Boushie family before making the doc.

Hubbard wasn't even looking to make a film when Boushie was killed. She had just finished the acclaimed documentary "Birth of a Family" and was busy with that, she noted.

But she was so struck by what had happened, she felt compelled to document it.

After speaking with the National Film Board of Canada, which produced "Birth of a Family," she realized her upbringing in Saskatchewan could help contribute to the doc as it looked at stereotypes, oppression and pervasive, ingrained thinking in the media, movies and education system.

"I think sometimes you acknowledge, living as an Indigenous or person of colour in this country, people live with racism and people deal with it and acknowledge it. But to come to terms that that could be celebrated — I started to cry telling my producer this and she said, 'This is really powerful.'"

Hubbard said she hopes the film will help draw attention to the Boushie family's suggestions for changes to the legal justice system to address issues including jury selection.

"This is the time — and it was the time 10 years ago, it was the time 20 years ago, it was the time 30 years ago," said Hubbard, who also wrote and directed the 2004 doc "Two Worlds Colliding."

"I just want my boy and every other person's Indigenous child to be safe and free to walk on our own land. It's that simple."

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