Indigenous people are weary of being dragged through prejudicial legal systems that put victims on trial by weaponizing old, cheap stereotypes and racist innuendo, says Métis MP Blake Desjarlais on Nation to Nation.
The New Democrat parliamentarian, who hails originally from eastern Alberta, is condemning what he calls the “disturbing” pattern of victim blaming on display in the trial of two men accused of murdering two local Métis hunters.
“Look at how the media in many ways has portrayed, in the court of public opinion, these Métis hunters as in some ways being the perpetrators of violence, when that’s not the case,” Desjarlais says. “Two Métis relatives of ours were shot dead, and that’s a fact.
“And they should not be dead today. They were chased down by folks who thought they were thieves — a long stereotype that Indigenous people are still scared to go out to some fields even to harvest traditional medicines (because of) today.”
Desjarlais grew up in Fishing Lake Métis Settlement, not far from Glendon, Alta., where moose hunters Jacob Sansom, of Nobleford, and Maurice Cardinal, of Bonnyville, were found dead in March 2020.
Father and son duo Roger Bilodeau and Anthony Bilodeau stand accused of two counts of second-degree murder each. They’ve pleaded not guilty. Court saw surveillance footage of Sansom and Cardinal being gunned down.
Desjarlais says the area has a tense climate and history of racism, telling N2N that, when he was in high school, the board voted to remove the school’s Indigenous kids, including himself, forcing him to go outside of his community to catch the bus.
“Many of the relatives who I know experienced the same. Racism is alive and well,” he says. “What we’re seeing, I think, is an exacerbation of that racism to overt violence, vigilante justice in some ways, which has to be called out and has to be condemned because it’s resulting in people dying.”
The Bilodeau’s have argued self-defence, while the Crown prosecutor contends the pair took the law into their own hands.
The case, for many, clearly echoes the trial of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley, who was acquitted in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie.
Stanley’s legal team was able to secure an all-white jury through procedural maneuvering, which led to accusations of preferential justice and racial bias in the system.
Desjarlais says he’ll be watching the Bilodeau trial closely to see whether it falls into the same pitfalls as the Stanley case, and says the federal justice minister should too.
He also says local officials in that area of Alberta, about 200 kms east of Edmonton, need to address its powder-keg environment.
“The climate in the area is one of very overt racism,” says Desjarlais, “and it’s very tense in the communities.”
N2N also spoke to the MP about his push to have big oil hand over more than $250 million unpaid tax dollars owed to small, mainly Indigenous communities in the province.
That’s followed by an interview with the chief of a northern Ontario First Nation that recently received hard-earned recognition of its status as just that: a First Nation.
The Anishinaabe community known as Beaverhouse, about 600 kms north of Ottawa, was skipped over in Treaty 9 talks 117 years ago.
As with other treaties, the Crown sought to obtain the rights to Indigenous lands and resources to open them for settlers. In exchange, First Nations received cash, protection of hunting rights and several reserves.
But Beaverhouse did not.
“Beaverhouse ancestors have always known that we are a First Nation distinct community,” says Chief Wayne Wabie. “The research has since proven that.”
Now the question turns to the issue of reparations. But determining fair settlement of a 117-year-old grievance — more than a century of dislocation — is no easy task.
“I look back at my grandmother and grandmother, who trap and who I learned from on the land,” says Wabie. “How do I put a dollar figure onto their loss of use for so many years? That’s why I dare not quantify or put a figure to that.”
Watch both interviews above, along with highlights from some of this season’s memorable segments.