On Being a Scholar-Ally in the Wake of the Gerald Stanley Verdict

By Erin Millions

On Friday, February 9th, a jury in Battleford, Saskatchewan found farmer Gerald Stanley not guilty in the shooting death of a twenty-two year old Cree man, Colten Boushie. Canadians across the country have expressed their outrage at the verdict and organized protests, while Colten Boushie’s family mourns the lack of justice for their loved one.

The verdict is not shocking when contextualized in the long history of systemic racism against Indigenous peoples on the prairies. But, even knowing that, I hoped for better. I have spent the last few days since the verdict combating racist trolls under the hashtag #SettlerCollector, started by allies to try and deflect attacks on Indigenous scholars, activists, family members, and others on social media. I’ve been having conversations with non-Indigenous Canadians about the verdict – some of whom are defensive and some of whom are genuinely shocked at the verdict and open to learning more. And I’ve also been thinking about how I am going to address the Stanley decision in my classroom this week.

I am a non-Indigenous scholar from rural Saskatchewan. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents were all Saskatchewan farmers. I grew up in a small, rural farming community. Gerald Stanley is my people. The jurors who decided that Stanley’s murder of a young Indigenous man is justified are my people. The social media trolls declaring that we just don’t understand a rural way of life are my people. I am ashamed of my people. My people are wrong.

I consider myself an ally, which, to me is a process of listening, learning, supporting, and acting when it is appropriate. I am not here to take space away from Indigenous voices, or to benefit from Indigenous trauma, although I do engage with and explore critiques of those topics offered by Indigenous women in particular. I support the decolonization and Indigenization of universities. I believe that we, as the scholarly community, need to continue to push for more Indigenous voices in the academy and to make universities a safe and welcoming space for Indigenous students, staff, and faculty.

As a white lady who teaches from within both a Department of History and a Department of Native Studies, I have expended a great deal of emotional labour contemplating my role as a non-Indigenous scholar who studies and teaches Indigenous histories. I’ve struggled in the past couple of years to come to terms with my role as a scholar. The job opportunities that have come my way are teaching and researching Indigenous topics. I’ve been listening to critiques of white ladies and intersectionality, about making space for Indigenous scholars, about how to be an ally. I’ve often wondered if, as a white historian, I am taking up space and resources that should be filled by Indigenous scholars and if I should change the directions of my research.

I also see, however, the toll that Indigenization and social engagement in general has on my Indigenous colleagues, and specifically right now the work that they are doing respond to their students, their peers, their communities, and Canadians in general in the wake of the Stanley verdict. They are bearing an unequal burden in the fight to teach non-Indigenous peoples how to make space for Indigenous bodies and voices, and to move towards reconciliation.

The last few days have crystallized for me what my role is: to inform non-Indigenous Canadians about Canada’s colonial past, and the realities of settler-Indigenous interactions for the last few hundred years. And particularly to teach that here, on the prairies, where the history of these relationships is particularly complex, fraught, and pertinent.

I will continue to work to be an ally, to learn, to act, to show up and, most importantly, to listen (even when that listening is difficult and uncomfortable). Right now, though, it is time for settler Canadians to step up and take the responsibility for our people. To prioritize Indigenous voices and perspectives, yes, but also to accept the burden of teaching non-Indigenous Canadians what they need to know to understand Canada’s history of colonialism, to show empathy, and to recognize and own the benefits that accrue through white privilege. That is my role.

Erin Millions recently received her PhD in history from the University of Manitoba.

*This article originally referred to Gerald Stanley as George Stanley. We regret the error.*

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