Justin Tang, AP
People gather around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial as they mourn the loss of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the army reservist who was shot dead as he stood guard at the memorial on October 22. He was buried in Hamilton, Ontario, with full honors on Tuesday October 28.

Indigenous Leaders Caution Against Racist Assumptions in Wake of Ottawa Shooting


As Corporal Nathan Cirillo was laid to rest on Tuesday October 28, days after being shot dead by a deranged gunman while standing guard at the National War Monument in Ottawa, Canada was united in grief.

Just under a week earlier, as the tragic Parliament Hill shooting unfolded in Ottawa on October 22, a horrified Canada scrambled to figure out who would do such a thing, and why. But some of what burst out over social media in as-it-happened accounts disturbed Native leaders and legal experts, and they are now calling anew for unity, emphasizing that everyone, including them, is united against violence.

In particular a tweet by Globe and Mail journalist Bill Curry, sent out to his 9,000 followers in the heat of the moment, caused much consternation: “Eyewitnesses say the suspect has long dark hair and two said he appeared to be aboriginal.”

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In the days after the shooting, major indigenous organizations in Canada issued statements of support and healing, expressing gratitude to the first responders, the country’s leaders and sympathy for Cirillo’s family, friends and colleagues. They stressed unity and invoked historical instances of the ways in which First Nations and other Indigenous Peoples had stood and fought side-by-side with Canada during numerous conflicts.

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So they found it doubly disconcerting that the initial observations of those involved would jump to people of color. The issue was first highlighted the day after the shooting, when educator and researcher Eric Ritskes, whose work “exists at the intersections of sociology, education, and digital humanities” with an emphasis on Indigenous Peoples, wrote about it in his blog, Decolonization.

“Shooter was ‘South American’ in colour,” tweeted Ottawa Citizen writer David Reevely, according to “Dark Threats and the Normalization of White Terror: Aboriginals, Muslims & South Americans in the Ottawa Shooting,” published on October 23. “Hoodie with bandanna. Got into a car.”

Ritskes went on to describe the need for mainstream society to “darken” these events so as to make sense of them, and the dangers of doing so. Indigenous leaders were equally alarmed.

“While we have called on our own Peoples to come together in the spirit of peace at this difficult time, we would like to also extend that sentiment to all Canadians,” said Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Stan Beardy in a statement from the Chiefs of Ontario on October 24. He too mentioned The Globe and Mail reporter’s tweet.


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