‘I feel scared:’ Indigenous youth call for change after high-profile acquittals

“I feel scared. I feel scared for urban Indigenous young people who are affected by too many systems that fail them.”

Family and supporters of Thelma Favel, Tina Fontaine’s great-aunt and the woman who raised her, march past the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Friday, February 23, 2018, in Winnipeg the day after the jury delivered a not-guilty verdict in the 2nd degree murder trial of Raymond Cormier. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Recent acquittals in the high-profile deaths of two young Indigenous people have some of their peers across Canada questioning whether reconciliation is possible.

“I feel scared. I feel scared for urban Indigenous young people who are affected by too many systems that fail them,” said Michael Redhead Champagne, 30, an organizer with Aboriginal Youth Opportunities in Winnipeg.

“I am nervous for all of my relatives who are wrapped up in a justice system that doesn’t know what that word means.”

Last month, a jury found Raymond Cormier not guilty in the 2014 death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. Her body was found wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down with rocks in Winnipeg’s Red River.

Related: ‘All of us should be ashamed’: Calls for change after jury finds Raymond Cormier not guilty

Less than two weeks earlier, a Saskatchewan jury found Gerald Stanley not guilty in the 2016 killing of 22-year-old Colten Boushie, who was shot after the vehicle he was in drove onto Stanley’s farm.

Both verdicts brought people into the streets to protest.

The Ontario First Nations Young Peoples Council said the verdicts highlight the “systemic racism that is pervading the Canadian justice system.” The Canadian Roots Exchange, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth dedicated to reconciliation, posted a statement saying ”racism, colonialism and white supremacy continue to thrive.”

Champagne said it’s hard to have faith in a justice system that ignores countless reports and recommendations, including the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry from 1991, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples from 1996 and calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Related: Dozens decry Indigenous injustice outside Penticton’s court

It’s time for action, he said.

“I want the justice system in Canada in general to quit asking Indigenous people what we need, because we have already told you,” he said. “Right now, we can’t have a conversation about reconciliation in this country until we feel that there is justice.”

Brendin Beaulieu, an 18-year-old Winnipeg high school student, is preparing for graduation. The six-foot-five teenager who likes to make music in his spare time said he has to deal with a “broken heart” as he grapples with “knowing there are things we can do but it’s going to take time.”

Vitriol online shows there’s a lot of talking about Indigenous youth but not nearly enough listening to them, Beaulieu said.

Jada Ross, 17, goes to a different high school across the city, but is having similar conversations with her friends and family. She said they are scared and saddened but determined to make change.

Lauren Chopek, 21, knows all too well how vulnerable Tina was on the city’s streets.

Chopek was sexually exploited as a teenager. Now, she runs the Midnight Medicine Walk to help others in the same position. She said it feels as if Indigenous people have been asking for justice for a long time, but it’s essential Canada hears it.

“I’ve been there in her shoes, and also misjudged and just ignored as a person on the street, being a child that needs to be somewhere safe. I needed help and I just got judged,” she said.

“Why are we always the ones standing up for ourselves? How come there is no one else vouching for us?”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Okanagan Wildfires: An afternoon update on wildfires and evacuations

A Sunday afternoon look at the major wildfires impacting the Okanagan and Similkameen.

VIDEO: Sailing under the sun at the BC Games

Maple Bay in the Cowichan Valley was host to dozens of athletes sailing on small prams to planing dinghys

BC Wildfire holding steady on Okanagan Complex

Evening update on Okanagan fire situation

Wild fires blaze in the Okanagan, in your words

We have compiled a community photo album of your wildfire photos

Power couple speed into top spot at L’Alpe de Grand Blanc at Big White

The professional riders have been training all year

BC Games: Day 3 wrap and closing ceremonies

The torch in the Cowichan Valley has been extinguished as Fort St. John gets ready to host the 2020 BC Winter Games

Police confirm girl, 8 others injured in Toronto shooting; shooter dead

Paramedics said many of the victims in Danforth, including a child, were rushed to trauma centres

Why do they do it? Coaches guide kids to wins, personal bests at the BC Games

Behind the 2,300 B.C. athletes are the 450 coaches who dedicate time to help train, compete

Reel Reviews: Floundering inferno

We quote Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”

UPDATE: Five taken to hospital following one of two Coquihalla accidents

One airlifted in critical condition, four taken via ambulance in stable condition

Ottawa fails to find alternative buyer for Trans Mountain pipeline by deadline

The feds had announced it was purchasing the $4.5 billion pipeline earlier this spring

Government sets full-time salary range for Justin Trudeau’s nanny

At its top range, the order works out to a rate of $21.79 per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week

Lower Mainland teams battle for baseball gold at BC Games

Vancouver Coastal squeaked out a 3-2 win against Fraser Valley

The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw people signed an agreement-in-principle with the B.C. government

The signing ceremony, at the Eliza Archie Memorial School, was 25 years in the making

Most Read