02/12/2019 10:53 EST | Updated 02/12/2019 10:54 EST

Finding Healing After The Gerald Stanley Verdict

One year ago I attended a rally at the courthouse to lend Colten Boushie's family my support.

Most of Indigenous Canada knows exactly where they were on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 when the verdict came down on accused farmer Gerald Stanley, 56, in the killing of Colten Boushie, 22, a First Nations youth band member of Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

I was at home in Saskatoon, Sask. with my husband and grandson, watching television in the rumpus room. My husband was tracking a news outlet that interrupted regular television programming to bring us reporting from the courthouse in North Battleford, Sask. I was following along on social media, Facebook and Twitter. In the months before, we had watched journalists report on each and every development as to what had occurred that fateful summer day on Aug. 9, 2016.

Debbie Baptiste, mother of Colten Boushie, holds a photo of her son during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb.14, 2018.

I remember that on the day the tragedy occurred I vowed to wait until I had seen more evidence to form an opinion about what happened. As an Indigenous woman, some might assume that I would immediately side with the victim's family and community, but it was neither my ethic nor integrity to jump to conclusions without information. I didn't know the victim personally nor the accused farmer, after all, and an acquaintance who claimed to know Stanley's wife suggested that there was more to the situation than what was immediately reported. So I kept my mind open.

I paid very close attention to those legal proceedings over the year that followed. As more and more information came to light, I formed the opinion that the farmer would be charged with manslaughter at minimum.

In my role as an activist and advocate on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, I have a reputation in Saskatoon and other cities for being able to pull together a rally, protest or vigil quickly. A day before the verdict I was contacted over social media by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, who told me that the FSIN was preparing for what could be a verdict of not guilty. As much as I tried to keep this monumental crisis of Indigenous and white relations far from me, hearing the verdict helped me decide to fully support FSIN's request.

Darlene R. Okemaysim-Sicotte
The scene at the courthouse rally.

The rally at the courthouse bought people of all ages, races, genders and economic statuses, as well as many news outlets. In attendance was Jade Tootoosis, who spoke for Colten Boushie's family. It was a cold day.

Not even 15 minutes after news of the not-guilty verdict ran through the media, I received a short video of the family's reaction in the courthouse. I swear I will never forget the images and sounds of screaming and weeping from Boushie's mother, Debbie Baptiste, as the jury and Gerald Stanley were quickly ushered out of the courthouse.

I offer my love, admiration and respect to Colten Boushie's entire family.

I originally asked not to speak at the rally, but the organizers insisted. I tried to put a brave face on, but just trying to focus on what to say made me weep. I was having difficulty writing out what I was going to say, so I settled on speaking from the heart as best I could.

I shared my thoughts of Boushie's mother — how she endured physical harassment at her home from the first day of the incident; how she endured the media's attention; of having to lay her slain son to rest; the public's racism; and the trial process that was clearly devoid of true justice.

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After the rally, my family and I attended the Kôna Wanuskewin Winter Festival. There I witnessed hundreds of people of all ages and races learning about our Indigenous society. I wept and wept at the love those people displayed for the Indigenous people who suffered that day at the rally. That day at Wanuskewin truly healed me; not fully, but it gave me hope seeing all those wonderful people with their little children wanting to be part of our community. I will take this experience to my grave.

I offer my love, admiration and respect to Colten Boushie's entire family for all they endured, and that my support is strong and never wavering.

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