While much of the work on display at this year’s Asinabka Festival was intended to elevate the beauty of Indigenous culture—acknowledging the stubborn, cavernous divide that persists between our federal state and the sovereign Indigenous nations that long preceded Canada was a recurring theme also.
Perhaps the most poignant exploration of this divide and its ongoing implications took place on the last night of this film and art festival—now in this its eighth year—during an inaugural screening of Tasha Hubbard’s cerebral new documentary Nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up on August 11 at the Ottawa Art Gallery.
You might recall the headlines and “social media firestorm” surrounding the death of a young man from Red Pheasant Cree Nation three years ago this summer.
Described as witty and empathetic, 22 year-old Colten Boushie was shot dead on a rural property in northern Saskatchewan in August 2016 by a white farmer named Gerald Stanley. Those who were with Boushie at the time maintain they were only there to ask for help with a flat tire. Stanley maintains he was defending his property from trespassers.
Given the trendy push for reconciliation in Canada, when news broke, it felt like the whole world was watching.
One week after the verdict landed, Colten Boushie’s family brought their campaign (#JusticeforColten) to the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation—what we now know as Ottawa—for meetings with elected officials on Parliament Hill, including the Prime Minister.
Through the eyes of an Indigenous woman raising two young sons, the events surrounding Colten Boushie’s tragic death and the controversial trial by jury that followed are chronicled in this documentary in harrowing detail. And at the centre of it all is the catalyst for much of the activism and international outcry that’s erupted since Boushie’s death: his cousin Jade Tootoosis.
“It’s quite challenging to be up here. It’s a lot,” Tootoosis told a full theatre after the Nîpawistamâsowin screening. “My heart is with you if anyone else in this room carries the weight of a lost loved one.”
Nêhiyaw activist and executive director of Canadian Roots Exchange Max Fine-Day and Tootoosis held a candid Q&A after the film to expand on key themes and encourage the audience to challenge racism in their own lives.
“I think this movie is going to change the country.”
Fine-Day suggests Nîpawistamâsowin successfully disrupts the archetype of Canada as some sort of ‘good guy’ on the world stage: effectively pointing to some of the serious challenges that continue to be faced by Indigenous peoples today. He also pointed out that Tootoosis, who is seen bringing the Boushie case all the way to the United Nations in this film, embodies much of what being Indigenous means in a colonial world: the strength to persevere through practically any hardship imaginable. Fine-Day pointed to this a number of times in their discussion.
“I think this movie is going to change the country,” he said, informing the audience that this is only the beginning of a full impact and outreach campaign set to kick off in 2020; that will see this film screened all over the country.
Tanya Talaga, award-winning author and Indigenous affairs columnist for the Toronto Star, calls Nîpawistamâsowin “truth seen through an Indigenous lens.”
Be sure to see it for yourself. Or better yet, host a screening.