Stonechild, Neil

On November 29, 1990, Neil Stonechild, age 17, was found frozen to death in a remote field on the outskirts of Saskatoon. Partially clothed and wearing only one shoe, Saskatoon police ruled Stonechild’s death accidental, sparking outrage amongst Aboriginal groups who believed that Stonechild’s death was the result of a routine practice by police of abandoning Aboriginal men at the edge of the city in the middle of winter. However, it was not until February 2003, following the deaths of Lloyd Dustyhorn, Rodney Naistus, and Lawrence Wegner in January and February 2000, and in the wake of allegations by Darrell Night that he was forced out of a police cruiser at the edge of the city on the night of January 28, 2000, that the provincial government finally agreed to demands for an inquiry into Stonechild’s death. On October 26, 2004, the provincial government released its report, noting there was clear evidence that Stonechild had been in police custody on the night of his death, and criticizing senior levels of the Saskatoon police force for conducting a superficial and defensive investigation of Stonechild’s death. The report made eight recommendations, including increasing the number of Aboriginal police officers, providing better training in race relations and anger management for police officers, and improving the public’s ability to file complaints against the police. During the course of the investigation, two officers were charged with unlawful confinement, and the city’s deputy police chief was charged with disreputable conduct under the Police Act. On November 12, 2004, Saskatoon’s police chief fired two officers at the centre of the Stonechild case, though both officers maintained they had had no contact with Stonechild.

Damian Coneghan