BIGGAR, Sask. - Racial tensions are flaring in Saskatchewan after the fatal shooting of a First Nations man who relatives say was just looking for help with a flat tire.
Colten Boushie, 22, was killed Tuesday after the vehicle he was in drove onto a farm in the rural municipality of Glenside, west of Saskatoon.
Boushie's cousin, Eric Meechance, said he and three other friends were also in the car, heading home to the Red Pheasant First Nation after an afternoon spent swimming at a river.
But Meechance said they had a tire blow out and that's how they ended up at the farm.
"That guy just come out of nowhere and he just smashed our window," said Meechance.
Meechance said they tried to drive away, but ended up colliding with a parked car. He then ran for safety as gunshots rang out.
"Running is probably what saved all of our lives, you know, because if he's going to shoot one, he's probably would have shot us all," he said.
"He wasn't shooting to scare us. He was shooting to kill."
Gerald Stanley, 54, is charged with second-degree murder. He is to make his next court appearance in North Battleford on Aug. 18.
Meechance said Boushie was a hard worker, mowing lawns and cutting wood to earn money.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise $10,000 to help Boushie's family cover funeral expenses.
Another GoFundMe page has been set up to help Stanley's wife. The hope is to raise $35,000.
That page has been set up by someone who said they live in the area. It says "much of the farming community around us who know this family know they (are) loving and deserving of some help through a difficult time."
First Nations leaders say the RCMP news release about the shooting was biased.
The first police news release said that people in the car had been taken into custody as part of a theft investigation.
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said the RCMP statement "provided just enough prejudicial information" for people to draw the conclusion that the shooting was somehow justified.
"The messaging in an RCMP news release should not fuel racial tensions," he said.
Chief Clint Wuttunee of the Red Pheasant First Nation said the media's initial portrayal of the event, based on the RCMP release, made the incident sound like a crime was about to be committed by the passengers in the car.
The FSIN wants a review of the RCMP's communication policies and writing guidelines.
Supt. Rob Cameron in Regina told reporters late Friday that being called biased is "deeply concerning."
He wouldn't comment on specifics of the case but said that RCMP handled the investigation fairly and competently.
"We have heard the concerns of the FSIN and we welcome the opportunity to discuss them and work together to address them," Cameron said.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde, with the Assembly of First Nations, said he was particularly disturbed by "racist, derogatory comments" about the incident on social media. It's a stark reminder of "how much work we have to do to eliminate racism and discrimination," he said.
"In too many ways, this is a sad day for Saskatchewan," he said in a statement.
Robert Innes, a University of Saskatchewan indigenous studies professor in Regina, said the situation shows the community divide.
"You can see that the racial tension is basically a tinder box in Saskatchewan," said Innes.
Speaking generally, Innes said some farmers are blaming First Nations people for rural crime. Their mentality is to protect their property, he said.
"So there's this real fear and contempt towards indigenous men by many white people, to the point where they will shoot before asking questions."
Innes said indigenous people are angry that Boushie was killed.
He notes that some Caucasians are angry that the young people were even on the farm and believe Stanley is being railroaded by political correctness.
"A lot of people who are talking on social media are happy that the person was shot and killed and believe it was justified. That, to me, is kind of disturbing in a lot of ways."
— By Jennifer Graham in Regina, with files from CKRM