Dozens of people filled the sidewalk outside Penticton’s courthouse Monday afternoon to speak out against injustices faced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada, while showing support for the families of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine.
“You just want to share your thoughts about it. You want to let people know that you’re standing with them and do something to get rid of the anger and the sadness,” organizer Laurie Wilson said.
She added the Okanagan Nation Alliance wants to do another rally in about three weeks’ time, with hopes of going bigger than the approximately 50 attendees on Monday, to keep Indigenous issues present in the conversation, though it’s unclear whether that will happen in Penticton or Kelowna.
The rally was planned in reaction to the not-guilty separate verdicts of both Raymond Cormier and Gerald Stanley in the homicides of two Indigenous youth in the prairies just weeks apart. Both stirred discontent across the country over a system critics say perpetuate inequalities of colonialism.
|A member of the Sakāwithiniwak First Nation in Alberta sings at a rally put on by Penticton Indian Band member Laurie Wilson in solidarity with the families of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine.
Dustin Godfrey/Western News
“This is a symptom of that, and because it’s in the forefront of life itself, we all have known, feel and understand what it’s like to have a young person be taken,” Penticton Indian Band Chief Chad Eneas said following the rally.
Wilson took aim at a lot of the rhetoric surrounding Stanley’s trial, which largely surrounded the fact that Boushie and his friends had been drinking.
“It just says to me that you’re guilty of being Indian first. If you’re an Indian and you’re drinking, you’re guilty. If you’re an Indian and you’re in somebody’s yard, you’re guilty. The mentality that allows that is absolutely, pure, 100-per-cent racism,” Wilson said.
“There’s so many people who wrote in and said these white boys do that all the time. They’re going out and stealing gas, they’re going out stealing stuff, they’re drunk and racing through people’s fields and nobody shoots at them.”
But the rally became a forum more broadly on issues facing Indigenous Peoples, including missing and murdered Indigenous women, underfunded education and a lopsided justice system.
“Once they barely touch the surface of one issue, there’s a whole gamut of things that have just gone sideways,” said Denise Lecoy, descendant of the PIB’s hereditary chief.
“Sadly, I’m guessing it’s going to happen again, but I know at the community level our grandmothers, people, our elected leaders, they’re working hard every single day. That’s why we need to raise that awareness and education.”
|Coun. Joan Phillip of the Penticton Indian Band joins in the singing and drumming at end of the rally.
Dustin Godfrey/Western News
Organizers were happy to see the number of people who showed up Monday afternoon, displaying signs bearing messages like “Every girl is my daughter,” “Standing for Colten,” “This is not equality” and “Racism kills.”
“I have a representative from our hereditary leadership, pre-colonial, who represented our community, our land, our kids,” Eneas said, pointing to Lecoy, while noting his own position as an elected chief is another example of the settler government imposing systems on Indigenous communities.
“Us standing here together is a part of that reconciliation, along with our non-Indigenous people here. It can’t solely happen in isolation, and fundamentally, we have to do it together.”
Eneas decried “paternalism” from the federal government — rather than making decisions together or allowing self-governance among First Nations, he said the government’s only advances toward Indigenous representation has been to consult, but not include in the actual decision making.
Wilson showed some skepticism toward recent promises from the federal Liberal government to put in place another new framework for a new look at Indigenous rights.
“I’m really disappointed that we’re still at this stage,” she said. “I had a look at the MOU (memorandum of understanding) between the Okanagan Nation and the federal government that they’re trying to kind of sell, and all it is is ‘they need to be involved in the decisions that we’re making for them.’
“So they don’t get it. They don’t get what reconciliation is. It’s like ‘we’ve got to treat our Indians better,’ and that’s all, and it’s not OK, so don’t use the word reconciliation when we’re talking about this kind of racism and injustice crap. It’s not OK.”
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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter
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