Prescott Demas is a Dakota man, originally from Chanupa Wakpa and currently living in Regina. He was one of a number of Indigenous people and allies who, in the wake of the acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier in February, set up the Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp in a park across from the Saskatchewan legislature. Scott Neigh interviews him about the verdicts, about the camp, and about what needs to happen for us to truly begin moving towards justice.
Back in February, verdicts were delivered in two trials that painfully demonstrated the unhealed wounds and ongoing violence and oppression that lie beneath the mainstream rhetoric of reconciliation in Canada. For many observers, it was perhaps not a surprise when white farmer Gerald Stanley was acquitted on all charges after shooting Cree man Colton Boushie at point blank range, nor when white man Raymond Cormier was acquitted in the death of Anishinaabe youth Tina Fontaine. As many pointed out at the time, this was not a sign that the settler state's legal system was broken, but rather that it was working exactly as it always had in terms of who it protects and who it makes vulnerable. At the same time, even if the outcomes were not a surprise, they were still profoundly painful, not only for the families and communities of Boushie and Fontaine but also for the many other people across the country who themselves face racism and state violence on a daily basis. As well, the verdicts contributed to a rising tide of increasingly overt anti-Indigenous racism and reinforced all of the tired colonial narratives through which Indigenous people are portrayed as being somehow to blame for their own violent deaths.
In communities across the country, Indigenous people and their allies responded to these verdicts in a range of ways. A lot of it took all of those ordinary forms of taking care of each other that make community community. Much of it involved ceremony. Some involved public expressions of mourning, of solidarity with the families, and of a desire for justice, like a vigil or a rally. And in some places the public side of the response took on a more enduring form.
In Regina, they call it the Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp. At the time of the interview, the camp had been going strong for 41 days and showed no signs of fading. The camp was originally proposed by Richelle Dubois. Her fourteen year-old son Haven Dubois died under suspicious circumstances in May 2015, and the family has been deeply unsatisfied with the official investigation and with its conclusion that his death was accidental. Indigenous activists and their allies in Regina happen to have plenty of experience with the camp as a form of political action after the four-month Colonialism No More camp outside of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (or INAC) offices in the city in 2016, so it was easy to pull together what they needed for this new camp back at the end of February.
Though the camp was initially inspired by the Stanley and Cormier verdicts, Prescott says that the issues raised by those cases are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many forms of injustice that take such a heavy toll on young Indigenous lives. Some injustices that get treated as historical by mainstream commentators continue to have major downstream impacts today, and many others -- the rhetoric of reconciliation notwithstanding -- are no less urgently present than they have ever been.
He says that any path to justice will require talking about residential schools; the Sixties Scoop; contemporary child welfare policies executed by organizations like Child and Family Serivces; racial profiling by police and other ways in which Indigenous people are criminalized by the so-called justice system; the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; all of the forms of oppressive regulation of Indigenous peoples by the Indian Act over the last 150 years. And of course the underlying issues of the theft of the land and Canada's refusal to honour the treaties.
Prescott says, however, that the camp is not making demands, and he does not feel that it is his place to try and change any other person's mind. He doesn't necessarily use these terms, but it sounds like the camp is more like an act of witness, perhaps an accusation, and certainly an invitation. The invitation is to dialogue -- Prescott is quite clear that, at least so far, governments in Canada have shown no real interest in reconciliation. Yet despite this, and despite the upsurge in overt racism in the wake of the verdicts, he does see hopeful signs among ordinary settler Canadians. So in large part, the camp is meant as an invitation to other residents of Regina to come, to spend time, and to talk.
Prescott hopes that through this dialogue, more Canadians can be inspired to listen, to read, to learn, and to change their own minds away from "this fairy tale version of how Canada came to be" that our governments and media teach us, and towards the kinds of understanding that will be necessary to make true progress towards justice.
Image: Modified from an image that is used with the permission of Colonialism No More.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.
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