In the early hours of a cold March day in 1983, long before cellphones and GPS systems, my good friend Karl Staats was driving back to Six Nations from seeing a movie in Hamilton when his car ran out of gas near Flamborough. He was with our friend Lorne, who he asked to stay in the car while he went for help. He went to a nearby farmhouse and knocked, seeking to use the phone.
The white man who answered was not friendly and instead of helping him, brought out a shotgun and shot my beautiful friend point blank in the head, leaving him to die on the freezing front porch and went back inside, locking the door. Lorne, after realizing Karl was not coming back, found our friend dead on the porch and screamed with all his might until someone in the house relented and called the police.
My beautiful, talented friend, who was a guitar-playing, music and poetry loving, funny and articulate young man, was 20 years old and was annhilated because a white man could not control his imagination at the appearance of an indigenous man asking for help and instead killed him out of fear and hatred.
35 years later, with this pain and grief hardening my heart and soul with scar tissue, I am here to ask WHY. Why has nothing changed for our people? Why are we here today mourning yet again another of our young men. Jonathan Styres had duties and responsibilities as a Haudenosaunee citizen, a rónkwe — a young man — and yes, he was troubled and suffering from the ills of colonization — but once again, a Canadian man could not control his imagination. Peter Khill claimed that he thought he was been attacked and yet Jon was shot in the back. This does not seem to be the act of someone who fears being attacked — this was an execution.
It is apparent to me that Canadian justice only works for white people. The murderers of our children — and Karl, Jon, Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine are our children — walk free because it is obvious their lives mean nothing to settlers. Why must we scream out our pain and anger and grief at yet another murder of one of our own? Because the Canadian justice system has deemed these indigenous sons and daughters unworthy of the care and compassion and the mercy that is supposed to accompany justice in this country.
Time and time again we are shown that the systems of Canadian justice are not meant for us. Onkwehonhwe were not meant to survive the settler desire to remove us from Mother Earth, from this beautiful Turtle Island that Skywoman made for us, because they wanted it for themselves. And yet — we prevail, we have survived everything they have thrown at us and more. Now Canada uses the machinations of foreign laws to kill us, letting the Murderers of our Sons and Daughters walk free.
I will never celebrate Canada Day, because it is not meant for us. We are not meant to be here and yet — we prevail. And in the 35 years since my beautiful friend Karl’s murder NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
The Haudenosaunee are the unwilling grandmother to two settler nations who appropriate from us, dispossess us of our lands, our languages, takes our children and our very lives, and still we are here, and still we continue to demand that the Great Peace and the wisdom of the Kaswentha, the Two Row Wampum, guide our relationship with the settler nation. Until we have true justice for our sons and daughters, there can never be reconciliation.
Nya:wen for hearing these words. In loving memory of Karl, Colten, Tina, and Jon.