Shot in the Head and Who’s to Blame?

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Brian Giesbrecht

The trial of a German tourist who was shot in the head while driving through the Stoney Nakoda Nation, west of Calgary is now taking place in an Alberta courtroom.

A German tourist, Horst Stewin, and his wife and son were driving their black Durango SUV through the reserve so that Horst could admire horses, and the rustic western setting. A car approached very fast from the rear and shots were fired. A bullet hit Stewin in the left side of the head, causing the vehicle to crash into the ditch. 

Stewin – now back in Germany – is recovering from the shot, but he will be left with brain injuries that appear to be permanent.

There is conflicting evidence surrounding the actual shooting. The occupants of the car from which the shots were fired might have believed that Stewin was somehow a threat to them – maybe this was a case of mistaken identity. Or maybe the shooting was just someone’s warped idea of fun.

Whether the 16 year old shooter shot the German on his own volition, or whether he was just following orders to shoot by the 25 year old driver of the car is unclear. The 25 year old driver testified that he and his three passengers – had been drinking vodka and smoking meth – were driving by the black Durango when he heard a shot from the backseat and saw the Durango crash into a ditch. The woman in the backseat claims that the driver told the 16 year old to shoot and handed him the rifle. It seems that the Crown finds that scenario more probable, as the attempted murder charge against the 16 year old (now 17) was withdrawn, and they are -only- proceeding with charges of aggravated assault and unlawful discharge of a firearm. 

The admission by the driver that he kept the rifle, and also beat the 16 year old up sometime before arrests were made, make his version of the incident highly unlikely. However, if the 16 year old shooter has been successfully intimidated and refuses to testify, it will make it very difficult to succeed with any prosecution against the 25 year old.

What other evidence will emerge during the course of the trial is unknown at this point, but there are a few interesting questions so far about how this incident is being reported by the mainstream media.

First, it is clear that all of the people in the car from which the shots were fired are residents of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, interestingly mainstream media initially reported a shooting on Stoney Nakoda First Nation by a Caucasian. The biased reporting by mainstream media in the Gerald Stanley case should be lept to mind here.

Secondly, the brazen nature of this shooting – a driveby shooting like something out of a Bonnie and Clyde movie – gives rise to questions about what is going on with the youth of that reserve. Was Stewin shot based on the colour of his skin? Did the gunman arbitrarily decide Stewin deserved it? Or was the gunman just a reckless youth hopped up on vodka and meth out having fun? Perhaps evidence about that will come out. Perhaps not. What is seldom referred to openly is that many Indigenous reserves are lawless places where law enforcement officials fear to tread. A recent study found that a Saskatchewan Indigenous man is 33 times as likely to commit a crime as is his non-Indigenous counterpart. 

Such instances are most often blamed on poverty, however, the The Stoney Nakoda First Nation is far from a dirt poor reserve. In fact it has a huge and profitable casino and hotel resort and is located on some of the most beautiful land in Canada. In addition to the revenue the band gets from that operation, the reserve receives millions every year from the federal government, with that, the chief and councillors give themselves very generous salaries. Since the federal government stopped enforcing the Financial Transparency Act that allowed taxpayers to know where their money was going in this regard it is not possible to know exactly how much they are earning, but salaries for chiefs and councillors in Alberta tend to be higher than average. The highest salary for a Chief was in British Columbia (just under one million dollars per year), but some of the salaries in Alberta were in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. These salaries are tax-free and come with very generous expense accounts. So the political leadership in reserves, such as Stoney Nakoda, are certainly not underpaid. The federal transfer payments subsidize families who reside on the reserve close to $100,000 per year. It appears that lack of money is not the problem.

The Indigenous leadership insisted years ago that if Ottawa would get rid of its Indian agents and white bureaucrats and turn the money and responsibility over to the Indigenous leaders, they would look after things themselves.

But are they? Will some people are doing well and earning very good incomes, the majority of the residents are stuck in a rut of chronic unemployment and hopelessness. The results which manifest into young people driving around aimlessly hopped up on vodka and meth and shooting up things. If you recall the evidence from the Gerald Stanley case, the young residents of the Red Pheasant Reserve were basically cruising around, drinking all day, and looking for things to steal and trouble to get into. This appears to be the case with these individuals in this case. Indigenous leaders claim that they insist their separate system is necessary to keep the traditional way of life, but this type of drug-fuelled criminality is certainly not a traditional way of life.

What is called “the rural crime rate” is now even higher in rural parts of the prairie provinces than in the cities. Blamed on “the meth crisis”, drugs like meth and fentanyl are pushing up crime rates all over, but the reality is that most of the rise in rural crime rates on the prairies is the result of criminal behaviour by residents of lawless reserves. Those are the same reserves that also have very highly paid chiefs and band councillors.

All criminals must be held accountable for their lawless behaviour and those political leaders must be held accountable for what is happening on their land. Government and leadership comes with responsibility.