Recently a banner was hung between two welcome poles at Pender Harbour High School threatening that if certain statues of historical Canadian figures were toppled, so too would be the poles. In another incident, the word “conquered” was spray-painted onto a recently erected highway sign that included the she shashishalhem (Sechelt language) name of Madeira Park (salalus).
These racist incidents that took place on public property do not represent the thoughts, views, or feelings of Pender Harbour or of the Sunshine Coast, as the outpouring of love for members of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation clearly demonstrates. But while we may not want to be associated with the people who committed these offences, their views unfortunately do exist here, within the fabric of our communities.
The RCMP is investigating, just as they did when shots were fired near shíshálh Nation archeologists who were working in the area 15 years ago, or when a sign was put in a tree proclaiming the area not to be shíshálh land, and when my office received threats.
Our community’s united expression of disgust and our denunciation of the acts was immediate. The non-Indigenous community has a responsibility to know the history of the people upon whose traditional land we live. We should all act to reconcile and guard all minorities against injustice and violence.
In addition to addressing individual acts of racism, we should also recognize that systemic racism is found throughout the structures of our institutions. It allowed the abduction of Indigenous children into residential schools; it razed the Black communities of Africville in Halifax and Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver to make room for a highway; it turned away the vessel Komagata Maru from Vancouver Harbour, along with its desperate, mostly Sikh passengers; it rounded up Japanese Canadians – including 129 from the Sunshine Coast – and sent them to internment camps and stole their property.
Systemic racism creates and perpetuates deep inequality in society, and results in poorer health and well-being outcomes for those targeted. The acknowledgement of the shíshálh Nation’s title and their reassertion of rights over their territory, the swiya, is part of British Columbia’s process of reversing the effects of systemic racism.
The premier has appointed me to lead a special all-party committee to determine the scope of systemic racism in our police forces, and to recommend how to update the Police Act. This is the latest in a series of initiatives that our government has begun in order to acknowledge the history we share with Indigenous and minority communities, and to chart our shared path forward.
For things to be different, we have to challenge our way of thinking. Bigotry will not diminish the value of diversity in our communities, and racism will never extinguish the rights of the shíshálh Nation.
Nicholas Simons is the MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast.