Film Reviews

‘nîpawistamâsowin’ is 2019’s Best Canadian Doc so Far

Tasha Hubbard’s award winner hits theatres

Photo by George Hupka


nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up
(Canada, 98 min.)
Dir. Tasha Hubbard

Anyone wondering what is the best Canadian documentary of the spring should look no further than Tasha Hubbard’s absorbing indictment of this country’s treatment of its Indigenous people nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up. The film won the Best Canadian documentary award at Hot Docs 2019 and the Colin Low prize for Canadian documentary at the Vancouver’s prestigious DOXA festival. Hubbard’s feature doc is a sobering account of the shooting of a young Cree man, Colten Boushie, because he and his friends had trespassed on a white farmer’s land. Despite the incontestable fact that Boushie was shot “accidentally” in the back of the head Mafia-style, the farmer was not even convicted of manslaughter, receiving an acquittal from an all-white Saskatchewan jury. The Boushie case may be the closest equivalent of the notorious Trayvon Martin shooting in the U.S.: a racially motivated murder with no consequences.

Hubbard, who is an associate professor at the University of Alberta and a documentary director, decided to make a film about the Boushie case as soon as she heard about it. With the full backing of the National Film Board, she was on hand to shoot the story of the trial and its aftermath from the perspective of the deceased Cree lad’s family. The film concentrates on Boushie’s mother, Deborah Baptiste and his sister, the very articulate Jade Tootoosis while also including members of the Red Pheasant reserve in rural Saskatchewan, where the family resides. Audience members will see how reasonable the Boushies and their supporters are during the trial. Clearly, they were expecting some form of justice to be meted out in court. In fact, Hubbard had only allocated a few days to wrap up her film since she also assumed that at least a manslaughter conviction would occur.

After the shock decision of “not guilty,” the film changes tone as the Boushies try to seek justice elsewhere. In a disheartening indictment of our current political leadership, Justin Trudeau commiserates with the family but does nothing; Jagmeet Singh pontificates to no avail and Andrew Scheer, whose riding is in Saskatchewan, refuses to meet with them. Hubbard follows the Boushie family to the UN, where Jade is able to address Canada’s lack of support for Indigenous people in our legal system in front of a worldwide audience.

Tasha Hubbard has made a powerful documentary feature while dealing with a dearth of material: there is no footage of Colten Boushie’s shooting; the trial couldn’t be shot for legal reasons and there isn’t a true climax to the film. It’s a tribute to her filmmaking skills that nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up was made at all, let alone become a multi-award winner. This is a film that should be seen by every thoughtful Canadian.

nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up opens in Toronto at TIFF Lightbox on May 31.