REVIEW: nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up
dir. Tasha Hubbard
2019 | Canada | 98 min.
The day his mother went into labour she was dressed as a witch, her face painted green. He was born on Halloween, so it’s no wonder that it was his favourite holiday. As a child he wore round Harry Potter glasses and competed in spelling bees. One year he did so well that he nearly made it to the finals in Washington D.C. He loved horses. He was quiet, but kind, and he believed that if people read great books under trees more often, the world would be a better place. He grew into a self-assured young man who respected his Elders and contributed to his community.
On Aug. 9, 2016, in his 22nd year of life, he visited a local swimming spot for respite from the prairie summer heat. He spent the day with friends, drinking, and messing around as twenty-somethings are wont to do. He fell asleep in the back of the SUV as his friends drove. He woke up to a nightmare.
This is the story of Colten Boushie, a Cree man from Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan. On Aug. 9, 2016, on the way home, Boushie was killed from a bullet to the head. Gerald Stanley, a white, settler farmer, shot him. The murder sent ripples of outrage across the country and brought Canada’s dirty, not-so-secret simmering racism into the public eye. Tasha Hubbard’s nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up tells Colten’s story with vulnerability, grace, and power. Hubbard’s interviews with Boushie’s family, including his mother Debbie Baptiste and his cousin Jade Tootoosis, provide intimate access to the pain of not only losing a son and brother but of having him turned into a symbol of the human casualties of Canada’s systemic racism and broken legal system. Their grief is visceral. Baptiste replays the day’s events in her mind, imagining different outcomes. Why couldn’t Stanley have shot him in the leg, the arm, why did he have to shoot him in the head? “Stanley made a choice,” replies Tootoosis. “He decided to run after a gun instead of running after a phone.”
Given Canada’s history of committing genocide and injustice against Indigenous communities, context is important. Hubbard uses animation to delve into the signing of Treaty 6, and how Cree leaders were imprisoned and murdered for trying to protect their children. But as a mother to two boys, and a Cree woman who was raised in an adoptive white family, Hubbard also contextualizes Colten’s story within her own life. The film explores what it’s like to raise a child in a hostile environment, where the very underpinnings of society were built to preference white, settler narratives, and to keep First Nations communities down. It’s impossible to watch nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up and not be moved.
Even if you don’t remember the controversy surrounding the legal trial that followed Colten’s murder, you’ll most likely remember his face, emblazoned on posters with the words “Justice for Colten.” The film follows Colten’s family as they remember learning about his death, through the legal trial and selection of an all-white jury, to Stanley’s eventual acquittal. But beyond that, the film follows Colten’s family in the months after. It’s surreal watching Colten’s family members, still in the midst of their grief, still shocked at the legal outcome, being paraded around to Canadian political party leaders. His cousin, Jade Tootoosis becomes an activist, the face and voice of Justice for Colten. Tootoosis and Baptiste meet with the Premier, Trudeau and his cabinet, NDP leader Singh, and members of the Conservative Party of Canada –– Scheer declined to meet with the family –– to ask for immediate action to end systemic injustice against First Nations people. In a moving scene, Tootoosis addresses the United Nations to ask its special rapporteur to investigate the Canadian legal system’s systemic racism against Indigenous people. Her speech is strong and well-received, but as soon as she makes it outside she dissolves into tears. Reliving your trauma day after day takes a toll.
nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up bears witness to Colten’s family’s fight for justice, and calls Canadians to stand alongside them.
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