Two provincial cabinet ministers and local MLA Nicholas Simons have issued a joint statement condemning “recent acts of racist anti-Indigenous vandalism on the Sunshine Coast.”
Sunshine Coast RCMP are investigating after a sign was strung up between the welcome poles at Pender Harbour Elementary-Secondary School threatening to cut down totems if “George, Stanley or John A” are touched – an apparent reference to recent movements to remove statues of some historical figures.
Police are also investigating the vandalism of highway signs featuring the shíshálh Nation name for Madeira Park, salalus. It’s not clear at this point if the two incidents are linked. A statement from the shíshálh Nation said the word “conquered” was spray-painted on one sign.
The joint statement from Simons, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser and Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson, released July 9, said: “We stand together with shíshálh Nation to denounce and condemn in the strongest possible terms the racist anti-Indigenous vandalism that occurred on July 7, 2020.
“These ignorant, cowardly and reprehensible acts are contrary to the values of our government and the people of British Columbia and Canada… There is no place in our society for the kind of racism we saw this week on the Sunshine Coast.”
RCMP seized the banner and are reviewing surveillance video from the school.
“Given the sensitive nature of this threat, police are working diligently to locate a suspect and are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying the person in the surveillance video,” said Const. Jihan McDougall in a press release that also included photos from the surveillance video. “There is no tolerance for this type of behaviour and we will work very hard to find the person responsible.”
In the statement from the shíshálh Nation, Chief Warren Paull said: “Racism exists here on the Sunshine Coast, as it does elsewhere. And as always, racism will be confronted for what it is – as an expression of ignorance and hate that must be completely rejected in all forms.”
Shíshálh Coun. Selina August said there have also been messages of support.
"While we woke up ... to hurtful news of racist incidents, we are also met with the love, support, and generosity of British Columbians from all walks of life who wish to see true reconciliation become the reality across this country,” August said in the statement.
Several Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors also addressed the incident at their July 9 board meeting.
Leonard Lee, the director for Pender Harbour, was blunt in describing the banner as racist and threatening.
“It really upset me,” Lee said. “It was threatening to a large portion of our local residents, many of whom are my relatives and lifelong friends... I’m proud to say it was widely condemned by our local community and there’s no place for it anywhere, especially in Pender.”
Chief Paull, who represents the Nation on the SCRD board, thanked the directors for their support.
“It was a bit of a gut blow to the membership,” Paull said. “But when people started seeing all the positive comments and the support, it certainly took away the gravity of the acts of a very ignorant few... Thank you for calling it out and saying it’s intolerable and we’re not going to accept it.”
On Friday, Lee along with the presidents of the Pender Harbour and Area Residents Association, the Pender Harbour Rotary Club and the Pender Harbour & Egmont Chamber of Commerce, sent a joint letter to Chief Paull and his council.
“The entire Community of Pender Harbour is truly shocked at the action of a misguided individual that erected a banner at our school, making it clear he had no understanding of our coast’s history or our own community’s hopes and desires,” the letter says.
“We stand together in support of our First Nation communities and condemn this ignorant and abhorrent act.
“There is no place for racist beliefs, destruction of property or the use of force to achieve your goals. Past governments tried that and it did not work then and it will not work now,” the letter continues.
“The individual that put up the banner had some motive that is not readily apparent but if his hope was to rally community members to use force to achieve a political goal, he failed miserably. We have no intention of doing harm to ourselves, our community’s symbols of our history and our hopes for the future.”
– With files from Sophie Woodrooffe