Gordon Sinclair’s book “Cowboys and Indians: The Shooting of J.J. Harper” is the author’s account of a Native man’s fatal encounter with police and the aftermath for years to follow. The book opens with a description of the incident where J.J. Harper was killed, and flows into the subsequent police investigation of one of their own members. The resulting court proceedings, inquiries, and inquests are examined where Sinclair cites witness testimony, evidence and exhibits, media stories, and his personal interviews with police and civilians involved. This essay will examine a series of analytical questions in response to the book including the main point and underlying themes, ...view middle of the document...
Police and paramedics on scene attempted to keep Harper alive, but he was soon pronounced dead. This incident provides the backdrop for the remainder of this book.
Main Point and Underlying Themes
The main point of this book is obviously the police shooting of J.J. Harper; however, the story goes more in depth by following (sometimes day-by-day) the Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (AJI), Law Enforcement Review Agency (LERA) investigation, Harper Inquiry, and various related political meetings. Further to the main point of this book, the author very clearly explains the negative perception of the police by Natives and their mistrust of law enforcement.
Underneath Sinclair’s main theme are many underlying themes. The key underlying theme he addresses in nearly every chapter is the inadequacy of and corruption within WPS. According to Sinclair, this corruption is targeted directly at Aboriginal people. He also touches at times on what he views as the failed police investigation that cleared one of their own members in Harper’s death.
The title including the misnomer “Cowboy” to represent the police immediately paints them in a negative light. The term “cowboy” when referring to police is a name given to an officer who often has his firearm unholstered, acts impulsively, and uses much more force than is necessary. This nickname is described towards the end of the book after somebody refers to Cst. Cross as a “cowboy.” This negative connotation represents the prejudicial atmosphere surrounding the police officers and WPS in the book.
The cover of this book depicts a set of handcuffs to represent the police and a feather to represent the Natives. Again, Sinclair is aware that a feather gives the representation of peace, tranquility and tradition, contrasted by a set of handcuffs which are rigid, cold, and generally used under negative circumstances.
Aboriginal and Police Relationship
As previously mentioned, the overshadowing theme throughout Cowboys and Indians is the negative relationship between Aboriginals and the police (WPS specifically). Sinclair explains over and over how the police are prejudiced against their Aboriginal enemies and how this prejudice extends from the bottom of WPS ranks through to the Chief of Police (Herb Stephen). For instance, Sinclair mentions a judicial recommendation of the AJI being for police to stop using race as a suspect’s descriptor because of its prejudicial effect. Race is the most common descriptor because it can significantly narrow a suspect pool and is usually easily identifiable. Aboriginals are not being “picked on” with this practice as Sinclair eludes. It does not matter if you are white, red, black, yellow or polka dot; you will be described by the way you look. (The purpose of this report does not include explaining why that is such a naive and brainless restriction to put on police so I will not mention it any further).
There are many instances where the...