I was sitting at home tonight heartbroken, confused, and saddened by the news that Colten Boushie’s killer walked free after being found not guilty by a jury of non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan. Disbelief that a man killed a kid and walks away as if nothing happened. I am seeing the effects of colonialism and systemic racism. A settler society found a settler not guilty according to manipulated settler legal proceedings. As this news was breaking, I was reading Hawk by Jennifer Dance, the story of a young Dene kid who gets leukemia and makes connections to the oil industry upstream from his reserve and connections to the animals who live around him, especially the hawks, whom he is named after.
I was asked to create a wishlist of books at my new school this year. I did a lot of looking, trying to add a lot of different voices into the library, especially Indigenous and Metis voices. So, Hawk ended up being one of the books approved and purchased. I haven’t read it before. I haven’t heard of it before. But it looked interesting, was written for teens, and was approved for purchase. So now there are students around this school reading this book and I thought I better read it myself.
I realize that life is a constant catch-22, as Dance states in the book, because of the oil sands: we need jobs to support people yet what is the impact of the oil sands on the land, the animals, and the humans who exist by the oil sands. It’s hard to talk about critically about oil in this town without feeling like I’m betraying people and also being a hypocrite, seeing as I am employed by the government that relies on oil money to pay my salary.
But that tension is what is present in Dance’s book. She makes some pretty heavy-handed comments about the oil industry and links it directly to illnesses an, animal extinctions, and land destruction. But she’s not wrong. As Adam, Hawk and he was called as a baby and now called again as an older teen, is diagnosed with leukemia and it changes everything. As he is in the hospital, he connects with a hawk that he and his grandfather saved from a tailings pond while on a tour of his dad’s worksite. In the hospital, he is gifted with the sight of the hawk and sees through the hawk’s eyes. He sees the pain and suffering of the animals and the land that he grew up on. He sees the disruption of migration. He sees the mutations and the deforestation. For his final class project in Gr 10, to move on to Gr 11, he shares his story: Hawk-eye View. He shares his story and his connection to the oil sands and the connection with the hawk to his community in a packed theatre that is sponsored by a major oil company.
So, as I’m reading this book about how settler society has disrupted the lives of both people and animals in Northern Alberta I can’t help but connect this colonozation and push for resources to the Colton Boushie case. This family and this community has been painfully disrupted as one of their young people was shot in the head while seeking help on a farm property in Battleford, Saskatchewan. His cousin, Jade Tootoosis, said, “I pity them [the farmer and his people] because I don’t understand why they feel so much hate for someone they don’t know.”
When I think about Canada’s push toward reconciliation, I feel a responsibility as a teacher to teach the truth and expose this racism. So, I am grateful that there are students in my school reading this book. We need more voices and perspectives shared. This isn’t just a settler country, this is a country of treaties. We are all treaty people. I must have hope that the young people of Canada will learn and will make change so that racism doesn’t mean that young people are shot in the back of the head, or living with illnesses from contaminated water. There is much work to do.