More than two weeks after a 22-year-old man from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation was shot on a farm north of Biggar, Sask., the community is still coming to grips with the loss of one of their own.
Elder Ben Wuttunee said he was visiting Red Pheasant from his home in Beauval, Sask. before Colten Boushie was fatally shot Aug. 9. He has since stayed in the First Nation, located around 140 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, to offer support and guidance where he can.
“It’s brutal what happened. There’s got to be a calm. That’s why we need our ceremonies, we need our prayer groups,” he said.
Wuttunee said part of his efforts have been focused on the youth who make up a majority of the band’s membership. With emotions still raw for many in the community, Wuttunee said he’s making a point of repeating the wishes of Boushie’s family, who have called for no acts of retaliation against Gerald Stanley, the 54-year-old rancher charged with second-degree murder in Boushie’s death.
“The family, they’re going through hurt right now. You don’t need to aggravate it. And liquor’s not the answer, or drugs, it just compounds the hurt,” he said.
Pointing to high incarceration rates and a history of mistrust for authorities stretching back to the residential schools system, Wuttunee said he has a hard time telling young people to just let the court process unfold.
“How can I talk to the young guys? Because they know the facts. All I can say is, ‘Don’t take the law into your own hands, because the law won’t spare you – and it’s not on our side,” he said.
Russell Podgurny, 45, said Boushie was like a little brother to him and many others in the community. He said he’s been sticking close to home and praying ever since the young man’s death.
“I’ve gone through a change. The Russell that was here before I met him doesn’t exist anymore, only the Russell that has met him remains,” he said.
Podgurny said concerns about angry young men flooding out of the community are missing the reality that most people are still grieving.
“Anger’s not the issue, it’s the hurt that’s the issue. And that’s what we try and deal with,” he said.
With Boushie’s death bringing a surge of racist commentary online, Podgurny said he doesn’t think it’s fair for a community reeling from the loss of a young person to have to defend its reputation.
“Red Pheasant has had kind of a bad rap for a bit, and I really don’t care what other people think. I wake up here and it’s beautiful here…it’s one of the most beautiful places to be,” he said.
Wuttunee said the hateful commentary reinforces the need for Red Pheasant to reach out to its neighbours — particularly in light of what will possibly be a years-long court process.
“We need to have a feast or some kind of gathering where we can invite the farmers if they want to come. It’s got to start somewhere. Two years from now is too long to wait,” he said.