Indigenous leaders across Ontario have expressed their support for the family of Barbara Kentner in the days after Ontario Superior Court Justice Helen Pierce sentenced Brayden Bushby to eight years in a penitentiary for his role in the death of the 34-year-old mother from Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation.
Two messages were repeated in the outpouring of support: no length of jail sentence will ever bring Kentner back to her family and the work to end violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people must continue.
“In memory of Barbara Kentner and in support of her family and loved ones, we will continue to fight for justice and the safety of all Indigenous women and girls,” said a statement from Cora McGuire-Cyrette, executive director for the Ontario Native Women’s Association.
In her statement, McGuire-Cyrette called on the City of Thunder Bay to take immediate action to improve Indigenous women’s safety.
“Indigenous women and girls will continue to go missing or be murdered until we address broader systemic issues,” her statement added, as McGuire-Cyrette applauded the sentence for sending a strong message that Indigenous women “are protected equally under the law.”
Bushby received his sentence at the Thunder Bay Courthouse on June 7, more than six months after he was convicted of manslaughter and more than four years after he threw a metal trailer hitch from a moving vehicle, striking Kentner in the abdomen while she was out for an evening walk with her sister through a residential neighbourhood in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Hours after receiving his sentence, Bushby was denied bail after filing an appeal of his manslaughter conviction.
Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald was critical of the eight-year sentence, saying it “does not seem enough for all the lives that Bushby disrupted.”
“Barbara had a lot of living to do, a lot of loving memories to make with her daughter. At 34 years of age, she could have lived to see her potential grandchildren,” she wrote in a statement.
“The justice system in Canada must uphold that Indigenous women’s lives matter and must adequately address how it punishes those who attack Indigenous peoples.”
In a statement also issued after the sentence, NDP MPP for Kiiwetinoong Sol Mamakwa spoke to the “long-standing pattern [that] has normalized violence against Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ people,” perpetuated by a justice system that “has consistently failed” Indigenous communities.
“A sentence for one man is a start, but not an end to Indigenous women and girls being the targets of an epidemic of violence, abuse, taking and killing.”
But the question of what comes next remains.
Reconciliation ‘but a word’ without action
Audrey Gilbeau, the executive director of Nokiiwin Tribal Council, which works with five member First Nations in the Robinson-Superior Treaty area in which Thunder Bay is situated, has given a lot of thought in recent days to the question of how Thunder Bay can move forward.
“How can we move forward as a community? How can we develop shared values that say every person is important, every person has value, every person deserves to live in a safe place, regardless of their social status, regardless of what neighbourhood they live in,” she said.
“Change is not going to happen unless we have a collective will to do so.”
That means everyone in the city, including organizations and leaders, have to acknowledge the racism that persists in the city and region and take actions that not only create space for conversation, but also lead to change, said Gilbeau.
She points to policy changes and bringing education to “our very youngest citizens” as important next steps.
“Reconciliation is but a word and doesn’t mean anything until such time that we start to put action behind it,” Gilbeau told CBC’s Superior Morning.
Listen to the full interview with Audrey Gilbeau on Superior Morning here.
10:54Audrey Gilbeau: Bushby Sentencing Reaction