Crying "no justice, no peace" and waving neon signs reading Shame and Justice does not mean Just-us, more than 100 people marched from the University of Saskatchewan and the First Nations University through downtown Saskatoon to police headquarters Friday.
The march started as a public show of support for Neil Stonechild inquiry commissioner Justice David Wright and Saskatoon police chief Russell Sabo, but evolved into a campaign about breaking down cultural barriers, organizer Alex Munoz said.
"It's not just an isolated incident with Stonechild," Munoz said. "An injustice had been done and injustices are continually being done."
In 1990, the frozen body of 17-year-old Neil Stonechild was found in Saskatoon's north industrial area. In the inquiry into Stonechild's death, Wright found Saskatoon police officers Brad Senger and Larry Hartwig had Stonechild in their custody the night he went missing and that marks on his nose were likely caused by handcuffs. Sabo fired Hartwig and Senger Nov. 12.
Lawyers for both officers filed appeals to the police commission Friday. The appeals will force separate public hearings for the constables, at which Sabo will have to prove his grounds for dismissal.
U of S student Donald Morin helped organize the march to counter a Nov. 2 event where 200 of the 365 officers in the force rallied behind Senger and Hartwig at police headquarters.
"The officers, when they took an oath of office they (promised) they were going to protect the public," Morin said. "Aren't the aboriginal people a part of the public? Aren't the marginalized a part of that public? I think they are."
Marchers left the U of S campus at 11 a.m. and walked down the sidewalk on College Drive to City Park, where First Nations University students joined them. On Second Avenue, they took to the street and a police escort arrived to re-direct traffic.
The event is a sign the community won't tolerate discrimination by the police force, said Lawrence Joseph, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
"I think the entire community, not only First Nations people, are tired of these demonstrations of lack of respect for Justice Wright and the commission report and the chief's handling of this case," Joseph said.
He said he isn't surprised to hear the officers are appealing their expulsion from the force.
"I think what they're doing is disrespecting authority, disrespecting their own justice system," he said. "How in the hell do you expect the First Nations to respect the justice system if (the two officers) themselves don't respect that system."
When marchers gathered outside the police station, aboriginal scholar and writer Priscilla Settee held up defaced posters advertising Friday's march. Scrawled on one, below Neil Stonechild's picture, was written, A dead Indian -- Who's gonna cry? Another read, Deserved to die.
Cries of "shame, shame" came from the crowd.
"This is the kind of racism that us First Nations people and Metis people are forced to endure day after day," Settee said.
"This is some mother's dead child and really, somebody needs to be held accountable for this murder."
Stonechild's friend Jason Roy, who testified during the inquiry he saw Stonechild in the back of a police cruiser the night he disappeared, came to the rally with his son.
Roy said he was moved by the turnout.
"It was important for me to be here today because I want to, for one, show my children that this fight is here and it's here to stay and to stand up for what they believe in."
John Lavery, a teacher who walked in the march, said he hopes Stonechild's death will be a catalyst for bringing people from all walks of life together.
"Saskatoon is a segregated city in which there is kind of a cultural apartheid," Lavery said.
"I think that marching together throughout the community will mean that eventually we might see one community in Saskatoon rather than a fragmented one."
"The deficiencies in the investigation go beyond incompetence or neglect. They were inexcusable." — Justice David H. Wright, Commissioner from Neil Stonechild Inquiry Report
For further information Contact:
Alex Munoz at 966-2027
Rachel Fiddler at 652-1939