Colten Boushie’s story stayed with journalist Ntawnis Piapot long after she filed her piece.
“And when they ask, ‘Is that your relative?’ I will say, ‘Yes.’” (Sarah Rain)
I remember the day Colten died. It was a hot summer day in Regina, Saskatchewan and I had enjoyed a leisurely summer, free of journalism work. I had decided to take a year off from reporting after my mother and sister died. I couldn’t cover the violence of our people without seeing my mother and sister in each story I did. But hearing the details of a young Indigenous man being shot by a farmer seemed too bad to be true. I felt urgency run through my body.
VICE News assigned me to cover Colten’s death. I rose out of my self-inflicted journalism slumber and went to the press conference.
Sitting with the other reporters, I noticed I was the only Indigenous reporter there. All the other reporters talked and laughed together waiting for the news conference to start. I couldn’t bring myself to laugh at a moment like that. It’s not their fault though. We come from different worlds. In my culture, we view and treat each other as relatives. Colten wasn’t some faraway person whom I felt no connection to in that moment. He could have easily been my 18-year-old brother. As relatives, we pray for each other and we end each prayer by saying: “All my relations.” We mean that.
In that press room no one talked to me. I asked questions. I wrote the story and made my deadline.
But Colten stayed with me. Like other Indigenous stories I’ve covered over the years, many people stay with me. Their stories make me proud. Some haunt me and I often wonder how they are doing, or if they felt justice. But most of all, I wonder if they found peace, and I hope I made a good difference in their lives by sharing their story with the world.
A few weeks later I moved away from the Prairies and attempted to live in Vancouver for grad school. Like many times before, I left my homelands in search of “something better.”
Ever since I was a little girl, around 11 years old, I wanted to leave Saskatchewan. I wanted to find a place where I wasn’t called a “dirty little Indian” or “a squaw” as a young child, and have white men try to grope me too many times to count in broad daylight.
So I left the racism of the Prairies behind, along with the hard looks from strangers who think the worst of my people — now more than ever after Colten’s trial. (I say Colten because the traditional journalistic way of using a person’s last name to me always makes it seem less personal.)
I came back almost immediately. I came back to wide open blue skies, my relatives, and the reserve the Canadian government forced my chapan (great-great grandfather) onto. I came back to the snickering, the racial profiling in stores, and drunk settler women asking me if it was “family allowance or Treaty Day” in the washroom of my favorite restaurant — because it was a Friday night, and how else would I have money to be in a nice place like that?
I deserve to be educated, raise a family, and live prosperously in my homelands, free of hate, racism, sexism and stigma. But those four things occured to me almost daily since I returned. What also returned were the thoughts of Colten and his killer. Would his family get justice? Would they find peace?
As an Nehiyaw Iskwew journalist, it hurts my heart to see the injustices my people have to go through. As an Indigenous woman, I’ve been hunted and preyed upon since I was 12 years old. Growing up in an inner city neighbourhood on the Prairies as a young Indigenous girl meant I’d get accosted by old settler men in expensive vehicles asking if I wanted a ride. “C’mon, don’t be scared. Just jump in.” “Wanna make a quick $50?”
Walking home from elementary school, I’d clench my backpack when they’d ask these questions and run as fast as a I could until the car was gone and I could no longer feel that stranger’s eyes all over my body. It was then that I knew: I had to become a warrior.
My weapons are my words and my writing along with my healing and my inherent storytelling abilities. I became a journalist to create change in my community. From a young age, I wanted to know why my people weren’t on the news unless they were dying, drunk or being accused of criminal activities.I wanted to write about all the things I witnessed in my young life, and expose the systemic racism that plagues our educational, health and justice systems.
Covering the Colten Boushie case changed me as a journalist. As an Indigenous woman, I can’t sit here and act like I’m not hurt, angry and scared for the future of this province. Saskatchewan is a whole different place in Canada. You can feel the racism towards Indigenous people and it manifests itself insidiously in our workplaces, schools and on our streets. You can witness a fraction of it on social media on a daily basis. Hundreds of everyday people comment and tell people of colour that Colten’s death was not a race issue when they haven’t experienced any form of racism a day of their lives.
These comments scare me. I want to raise a family here. My chapan Chief Piapot signed an adhesion to Treaty 4 with the spirit and intent that his grandchildren and their grandchildren could learn the “cunning of the white man” and not simply survive and get by in this world, but thrive and be able to live a good life. Indigenous lives matter. Colten matters.
And media can do better. When there are call-in radio programs, give just as much time to the Indigenous callers as you do the non-Indigenous callers. News producers need to make a conscious decision to attempt to balance every negative story with a positive story — when they can.
My friend got a tattoo of Colten on her arm. She said it will be a reminder, an opportunity to educate people about what happened to him (and us) when they see it. She told me: “Some people get warchiefs on their bodies to tell a story. I chose this warrior to tell a story. I want every person to know who he was and how the system dishonored him. We are Colten Boushie.” I couldn’t agree more. Let’s do better together.