Hours after 1,000 people walked across Port Alberni’s ‘Orange Bridge’ to honour residential school survivors, passing a newly painted sign proclaiming “every child matters,” the sign was vandalized with a racial slur.
The incident took place on the second annual National Truth and Reconciliation Day, designated in 2021 to recognize the inter-generational impact of residential schools in Canada. The day is supposed to be a public commemoration of the painful and ongoing history of residential schools, and is a component of the reconciliation process in Canada.
The bridge, formally known as Riverbend Bridge, which crosses the Somass River right beside the Tseshaht Administration Building, was a focal point for Port Alberni’s Orange Shirt Day Walk on Friday, Sept. 30.
Tseshaht representatives learned at about 10 p.m. Friday that the barricade on the east side of the bridge had been vandalized, and that a racial slur had been painted over part of the “every child matters” slogan.
“Although this type of act does not come as a surprise to many, it is a sad reminder of the depth of work we, as a community and broader society, have in front of us to eliminate racism,” a representative wrote in a statement. They thanked the Indigenous and non-Indigenous members who quickly rallied late Friday night to clean up the vandalism and called on government representatives at all levels to condemn this kind of racist action.
“There is zero tolerance for racism and hate in our community,” the statement said.
“After the uplifting day of community gathering that took place yesterday we hope that this hurtful and disrespectful act does not bring our survivors down…we cannot let the hate of a few people break the strength of our community and the positive relationships that are being forged.”
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions called it “an absolutely disgusting act of vandalism and hate.
“While we have made great strides, this act shows how much work there still is to do within our community,” she said in a statement released on social media. “Reconciliation, relationships, learning and understanding have never been more important.”
She said this is a time to show support to those who struggle with racism daily.
The Port Alberni RCMP are investigating the incident, RCMP media relations officer Const. Richard Johns said. “Senseless acts such as this are unacceptable and troubling to our community, and revert the efforts toward truth and reconciliation,” he said.
Tseshaht elected Chief Councillor Ken Watts said prior to Friday’s walk and gathering this has been an emotional week for the nation and its members. The prevous Friday was the final day of phase one of scanning for gravesites at the former site of Alberni Indian Residential School, or AIRS, which was on Tseshaht land. Survivors, students, community members and Mainroad Contracting came out on Tuesday to paint aspects of the bridge orange.
Cedar boughs were affixed to the bridge in advance of the walk, as a sign of protection for survivors walking over it and returning to the former AIRS site.
The RCMP are asking the public for any information or dashcam footage that will help identify the person or persons responsible for the vandalism. Anyone with information to share may call the detachment at 250-723-2424.