Summer in Canada means our highways are filled with tourists and travellers. For many summers now, some travellers move with a specific mission on those highways: to raise awareness about social issues facing Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing harmful impacts of Canada’s Indian Residential School program.
This summer, the Dubois family from the Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan is taking that walk. As they march from Regina to Ottawa, their hope is to raise awareness about the vulnerabilities and systemic inequalities faced by Indigenous boys, men and Two-Spirit People.
Specifically, the Dubois family is hoping to get some care and raise attention about what happened to two of their deceased family members. They are also demanding a national inquiry into missing, murdered and neglected Indigenous boys, men and Two-Spirit People.
My research focuses on racialized justice and settler colonialism. I first came to know the Dubois family in 2016 when Richelle was parked outside a Regina police station in -40 C weather demanding accountability in the investigation of her son’s death. We have since become friends and colleagues. I met up with the family as they began their walk.
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Stories from fellow travelers
The cars leading the Dubois walk are covered with blue hand prints and photographs of deceased family members, Haven Dubois and Steven Dubois. The family’s march calls attention to the death of their loved ones, but also to all Indigenous people who face institutional neglect.
As they walk, the family has met many others on the road with similar stories.
Constance says the stories from fellow travellers have had a significant impact on her and her family: “The stories coming out while we are on the road makes us more determined to take their stories to Ottawa.”
Richelle Dubois, 42, is Haven’s mother. She says the stories have a common theme: “a lack of investigation and accountability.”
Haven Dubois, searching for justice
In 2015, Haven Dubois was 14 when he died. It was a school day and according to his school, he was on a school field trip. But instead he was found by his mother, unresponsive in a local shallow ravine in Regina.
According to his family, Haven was a strong swimmer.
The family believe Haven was murdered, and that his murder has not been investigated because it was prematurely deemed an accident. According to them, Haven had been subjected to gang recruitment and bullying prior to his death.
They see a flawed police investigation and modified coroner’s reports.
Intimidation and disrespectful care
After they rushed their son to the hospital, they say police declared their son’s death an accident before they left that day. Following his death, the Dubois family say they faced community intimidation and disrespect from police.
In the eight years since Haven’s death, the Dubois family has been fighting for a robust police investigation, exploring multiple mechanisms of police accountability. The family has seen two coroner’s reports, but believe they have not seen justice.
Just before they left on their walk, the Dubois family finally received a notice from the Saskatchewan coroner saying an inquest will be called in 2024 to investigate the circumstances of Haven’s death.
The inquest will focus on the cause of death, but will not look at how the investigation was originally handled.
The Dubois family feels they have demonstrated connections between other flawed investigations into the deaths of Indigenous people during the same time period.
Canadian-based sociologists Jerry Flores and Andrea Román Alfaro note the role between police inaction and settler colonialism and argue it is “through their (in)actions — what they say, tell, and do or do not do — that police affirm the disposability of Indigenous bodies, constraining the survival of Indigenous communities and consolidating settler colonialism.”
Steven Dubois, ‘ignored to death’
Steven Dubois, 47, was a partner and father of three when he died on Feb. 8, 2022.
His family believes Steven received substandard care at their local hospital. Steven had been previously diagnosed with a liver disease and the family says this diagnosis impacted his care.
Over the course of one week, they said Steven was taken by ambulance to the emergency room three times and was released back to his family despite being in medical distress. It was only when his family refused his return by ambulance and insisted that he receive medical care that he was admitted to the hospital.
Once there, the family says they received mixed messages about his care and how to manage his pain. Staff said Steven was alert and responsive, but it was clear to the family he was not — he was declining rapidly. Family members can only speculate had he been adequately cared for, he may have lived longer.
After his death, his partner, Amanda Snell, who had maintained diligent daily logs while Steven was in hospital, wrote to health care officials demanding information.
The correspondence she received indicate that Steven could have received medication as frequently as every 30 minutes to manage his pain, but he received it two to six times in a 24-hour cycle.
Amanda says the hospital confirmed hygiene protocols were not met.
His daughter, Avery Snell, said: “The very people who were meant to provide care and comfort made my dad endure excruciating pain…It is now our time to stand up and seek change for injustices that Indigenous families face every day in our society. Shame on our health systems.”
According to research, Steven’s story is one of many across Canada’s health-care system in which Indigenous people are subject to a “pattern of harm, neglect and death in hospitals.” Essentially, they are “ignored to death,” according to Manitoba law professor Brenda Gunn.
Critical theorist Sherene Razack writes that “although Indigenous people repeatedly register the connection between colonial violence and accountability, their voices are seldom heard.”
This summer, the Dubois family have added their voices to an increasingly large demand for further inquests by the Canadian government to continue to examine the impacts of colonial violence and racism on policing, justice and health-care practices.
The family’s next major town will be Sault St. Marie, Ont. They anticipate arriving in Ottawa by mid-September when they are hoping to meet with representatives from the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government. To find up-to-date details of their walk, visit their social media page.
Michelle Stewart has held funding from multiple organizations and entities including from federal contracts (for example Public Safety Canada) as well as research grants that include Tri-Agency funding. Michelle knows the Dubois family and has written in Briarpatch Magazine with Richelle Dubois as well as co-taught a community class on racialized policing.