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Review: nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up

May 31, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Filmmaker Tasha Hubbard uses the tragic case of Colton Boushie, a young man from the Red Pheasent Cree Nation who was shot to death by white farmer Gerald Stanley on his Saskatchewan farm back in 2016, to explore how Canada’s legal system is still stacked against Indigenous peoples in her powerful documentary nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up. The film recently made history when it opened the Hot Docs Film Festival last month, with Hubbard being the first ever Indigenous filmmaker to be given that honour.

Boushie was asleep in the backseat of an SUV when his friends drove onto Stanley’s farm and jumped on his ATV, leading the farmer to start chasing after them with a gun to stop them from trespassing, firing two warning shots into the air. While his friends ran off, Boushie got into the front seat and tried to drive away, which is when he was shot point blank in the back of the head, with Stanley claiming that the handgun he was holding accidentally went off due to a hang fire when he reached in to try and turn the engine off. The investigation was allegedly poorly handled, with police not properly covering the vehicle or Colten’s body for hours afterward, as rain washed away some of the blood evidence.

Stanley was arrested on second-degree murder charges, and the ensuing trial sparked protests across the country when he was acquitted by an all-white jury, despite the fact that many believed he should have at least been charged with manslaughter. Through heartbreaking interviews with Colten’s family and supporters, we get a sense of what he was like as a person, and how hard it was for his loved ones to go through the trial, having to face the man who killed him in court and even being shown graphic images of the crime scene without warning. The last act follows them as they travel to Ottawa and meet with different politicians, hoping that some changes to the judicial system will come out of his death.

The film also takes on a personal side for Hubbard, as she teaches her son and nephew about the history of their culture, and how to navigate the world as young Indigenous men. Hubbard does an excellent job of tying in Colten’s story with Canada’s historic mistreatment of First Nations people, from the breaking of treaties in the 1800s and the creation of the Indian Act. She illustrates how the public’s perception of the case was biased by people who viewed Boushie through the racist stereotype of a “drunk, thieving Indian” and saw Stanley as merely defending his property.

A remarkable moment near the end of the film with Hubbard’s white adoptive father really puts the complexity of the different feelings people had towards the case into perspective. It’s hard to watch at times, but nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up is a challenging, moving and important film for Canadians to see.

nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up is now playing in limited release at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Hot Docs Film Festival.

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