The cousin of Colten Boushie joined protesters in Edmonton on Sunday as calls grow across the country that Canada’s justice system is failing Indigenous people.
Jade Tootoosis joined approximately 200 people at the rally in Churchill Square.
“We know we are not alone. We are in many,” she said.
The gathering comes after controversial verdicts in two murder cases involving young Indigenous people. Colten Boushie, 22-years-old and a member of the Red Pheasant First Nation, was shot and killed in 2016. His accused murderer, Gerald Stanley, was acquitted earlier this month.
Protests erupted across the country following Stanley’s acquittal. Many pointed the finger squarely at the use of peremptory challenges as among the factors contributing to what they have described as a failure of the justice system.
This week, a jury came back with a not-guilty verdict for Raymond Cormier, who had stood accused of second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. She was pulled from the Red River on Aug. 17, 2014, wrapped inside a duvet cover and weighted down with rocks.
Tootoosis said her family extends condolences to the Fontaine family.
“Know that our hearts are with you and we feel your pain oh too well,” she said.
Tootoosis also said she wants Indigenous youth to know that they are not criminals.
“You are loved and you are so important. You are so valuable, you are smart and you are resilient,” she said.
“You are so much more than the systems paint you out to be and I never want you to forget that.”
Co-organizer Theresa Mackenzie Whiskeyjack is hopeful the rally will be a call for action for the federal government.
“We are just as equal as everybody else here in Canada and Canada has not been doing their job into protecting First Nations people,” she said.
Posters in the crowd read “Where is the justice,” “Canada you failed us again,” and “Indigenous lives matter.”
Muriel Stanley Venne, the president and founder of the Institute of the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, suggested Canada is at a pivotal moment.
“We are in a crisis – a crisis of this country in regard to the treatment of Indigenous people,” she said.
Winston Northwest said he has a six-year-old son, and he is worried about what his future may look like.
“I got a son. He has friends. I don’t want to see any harm come to them when they grow up,” he said.
Northwest, who said he was not surprised by the not-guilty verdicts in both cases, said he wants to see more Aboriginal representation in the justice system.
“In law enforcement, in courthouses and judges, and prosecutors would be nice,” he said.
The crowd shouted phrases such as “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now” and “No more stolen sisters,” as they marched past the law courts and the Edmonton Police Service headquarters downtown.
Tootoosis said her family will continue to speak out and urged others to do the same.
“We cannot do it alone because our voice is louder in many,” she said.