On 9 August 2016, Gerald Stanley, a Saskatchewan farmer, was accused of second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man who was shot after he and his friends drove on to the Stanley farm.
As news of the incident surfaced on social media, so did misinformation about the circumstances surrounding the shooting. This misinformation was fuelled largely by a lack of hard facts, well-entrenched stereotypes, and long-standing racial tension between settler and Indigenous communities in the prairie province.
As the case went to trial, online vitriol flared. While Stanley always claimed the shooting was an accident, his legal defense tapped into a powerful narrative, built around the right to defend one’s property from intruders. This framing of events was neatly tuned to the historic divide between the settler and Indigenous communities of northern Saskatchewan and fuelled clashing narratives about the case.
The Stanley trial revealed for many just how far removed the settler and Indigenous populations are from a state of reconciliation. Old wounds were reopened and deep-seated attitudes shaped by more than a century of conflict and tension were revived.
The present study uses corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis [CACDA] to uncover linguistic patterns in online conversations pertaining to Indigenous relations in Canada—specifically as they relate to the Gerald Stanley and Coulten Boushie case.
Conversations that covered topics pertaining to Indigenous relations in Canada were sampled using combinations of the following search terms: Canada, Indigenous, native*, aboriginal*, “Colten Boushie”, “Gerald Stanley”.
All conversations contained within the data set were created in 2018. The data set used for the present analysis contained 42 conversation threads written predominantly in English, which stemmed from primarily the r/Canada, r/CanadaPolitics, and r/Saskatchewan subreddits.
An in-depth analysis of the corpora revealed:
- there is widespread online hatred (both explicit and implicit) directed at Indigenous people within Canada
- public commentary concerning the Gerald Stanley/Colten Boushie trial used familiar stereotypes and racist tropes
- dominant perception is that there is a difference in the way that White and Indigenous people are treated in Canada, particularly as it relates to the judicial system
Analysis of these salient terms revealed several meaningful linguistic patterns. Of these, the following three terms held associations that reveal particularly interesting discursive patterns: Indigenous, white [whites], native [natives].
Within the present data, analysis of the key word “Indigenous” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: people, folk. These word pairings were used in comments that articulated primarily negative depictions of Indigenous peoples and their socio-economic impact. The word pair “Indigenous people” was equally used to highlight perceived differences between the experiences of White and Indigenous populations within Canada. The majority of comments implied that Canada’s Indigenous populations receive preferential treatment; those comments that challenged this prevailing view were summarily rejected and downvoted.
Analysis of the key word “white” also revealed frequent and strong associations with the term “people”. The word pair “white people” was used within conversations to highlight perceived differences between the experiences of White and Indigenous populations within Canada, particularly as they relate to the justice system. As with comments that challenged the perception that Indigenous populations receive preferential treatment within Canadian society, those comments that spoke negatively of “white people” were downvoted.
Concordance analysis of the key word “native [natives]” enabled an examination of the ways in which the term was used in context within the online discussions sampled for this research brief. Overwhelmingly, the word “native” or “natives” was used within comments to portray a negative depiction of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and to express views about their perceived problematic exploits within society. Furthermore, “native [natives]” was used within comments that appeared to support the position that Boushie deserved his fate. “Native” was also used within comments to challenge statements made, in particular, by the Canadian media about the effects of race and racism in the Stanley/Boushie trial. Finally, a trend could once again be discerned within comments that used “native [natives]” and were downvoted—namely, comments that maintained that Canada has a racism problem, particularly as it relates to its Indigenous populations.
The online conversations analyzed as part of this research brief highlight the explicit and implicit hate levied against Indigenous people within Canada.
Significantly, of the data analyzed as part of this research series, the online discussions concerning the Stanley/Boushie trial contained the largest amount of overt hatred.