Saturday, August 27, 2016

Who He Was.

Years ago, too many to mention, I lived this strange life of a weekend ski patroller in the lower mainland of BC. I would work my regular week at the sporting goods store (can you say "amazing staff discounts"?) and then on Friday afternoon, would pack up my '69 VW Van and head up to Manning Park or Hemlock Valley for the weekend of training or patrolling. One weekend, I didn't get out of work on time so I had my van packed up and headed out at about 4:30 am to try and get first tracks at Manning by 7. I had just passed Chilliwack, and was making good time when in the dark of my van, I could smell something akin to burning tires or oil or some other toxic black carcinogen.
I flicked on the interior light and was shocked that the whole back of the van was filled with black smoke. I pulled over quickly and was at the back hatch before the van had stopped moving. I was grabbing for my skis and equipment bag and throwing them in the grass beside the van. Priorities, people. Plus, at this time, my equipment may have been worth substantially more than the van itself.

I went to open the engine compartment and it was extremely hot to the touch. I grabbed the fire extinguisher from under the front seat (thank you again, Dad...) and used my gloves to open the engine compartment. There was a LOT of smoke, not a lot of fire. I wasn't sure if I should "waste" the fire extinguisher so I didn't use it. I just sat on the side of the road, in the dark, and waited for something to happen. You know, like you do when you're a twenty year old girl. These were pre-cell phone days so I looked around and saw the lights on in a nearby dairy farm. Dairy farmers. Up before dawn. Seemed like a decent option. I felt that whatever had happened, was finished so I threw my gear back in the van, locked it up, and then climbed through a ditch and jumped to the other side and walked towards the brightly lit interior of the dairy farm.

I'm not sure what the farmer thought when I walked into his milking parlour that morning. I walked in, unannounced, and had to shout at him over the sounds of the cows and the machinery. He was hosing down the floor at the far end so I was nearly behind him when he heard me and I nearly got doused with his hose. He looked surprisingly calm for having been infiltrated by some hippie chick this early in the morning. He graciously let me use his phone at the office to call my dad (who else?) and then he and his wife and I had coffee and buns while we waited for my dad to show up. The first light of day was a ways off so he drove me back to my van and his wife, sent me on my way with fresh baked buns and a bottle of juice. Seriously.

Turns out, some rod thingy had jammed into the oil holder thingy and so when Dad arrived, there was nothing to do but turn back to home and write off a weekend of fresh powder for a weekend at the local mechanics, forking over my hard earned cash for a rebuilt engine and the satisfaction of knowing I didn't waste a fire extinguisher on what was clearly not an emergent situation.

You know what didn't happen those early morning hours when I trespassed onto a farmyard and walked into a business uninvited? No one took a bat to my windshield. Or screamed in fear at my arrival. And thank God, no one had their gun in hand and took my life. Why? I don't know. But I have some thoughts. Perhaps it was a different time? Or maybe mornings are when farmers are at their most sociable? Or perhaps it was there was no perceived or media perpetuated threat that I was out to steal from them or harm them. Perhaps because I was alone. Or a female. Or white. Or because the dialogue against white women isn't as racially and hatefully charged as that against young, male, First Nations men who could not possibly have any purpose other than violence or theft to come onto private property.

I hope I'm not oversimplifying something I believe is incredibly simple. We live in a racist society. I don't believe that we could honestly imagine thousands of white, young women going missing and not be outraged or active in the search for answers. And yet, we can allow missing and murdered indigenous women to remain in the graves afforded them by murderers and roll our eyes at yet another news story profiling a cry for justice.  We perpetuate the idea that somehow our First Nations people have been given so much and squandered it but we don't look at what we've taken from them and how we've abused it. We wouldn't stand for someone to write in the media that our sons were thieves and vandals if they had returned from a day of fun at the beach with their friends and looked for help for a flat tire. Yet, we believe the story from the first print that this car load of youth were up to no good...because well, they were First Nations and well, you know....

The thing that breaks my heart beyond the loss of a young man who had dreams and goals...is the fact that his family and friends seemingly have to speak on behalf of his character. To hold up photos of Colten Boushie and surround it with the attributes they knew of him. He was a good guy.  A son.  A boyfriend. A grandson. Loved by many. As if they must prove that his murder is worthy of punishment. As if they need to rewrite the assertations that he somehow deserved to die in the back of a car.

I read this MacLeans article this morning but I couldn't get past the tears looking at the hands holding up Colten Boushie's image and the words they wrote of him. The hands that are holding up the character of the boy they loved. So that the world will see him as he was...not as we are led to fear him to have been. When we see images of Colten in the coming days, I challenge you to look at him with their eyes. With love. And admiration. And the voices of those who REALLY knew him, ate with him, played with him, laughed with him and loved him telling you who he was...not the media or the fearful or the defensive.

I walked into a farmer's barn and walked away with lunch. Colten left a farmyard 20+ years later with no life left in him and a family with empty arms.


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