Port Alberni bridge honouring residential school survivors vandalized

Port Alberni bridge honouring residential school survivors vandalized
Port Alberni RCMP
Port Alberni RCMP is investigating after a bridge with Every Child Matters painted on it was vandalized.

Vandals have already targeted a bridge with Every Child Matters painted on it to honour residential school survivors and those who did not make it home.

Riverbend Bridge, known locally as the Orange Bridge, was formerly orange before it was painted grey in mid-1990, according to CBC.

READ MORE: Residential school survivors reclaim Alberni bridge they were banned from by painting it orange

Tseshaht elected Chief Ken Watts said a working group of Alberni Indian Residential School survivors asked the bridge be repainted orange to remind visitors and the community of the residential school.

“The survivors really wanted to make sure that we acknowledge them and really show our solidarity as well as show our resilience and try to make it a happy place when they pass the bridge,” Watts told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC’s On the Island, on Wednesday.

In a statement posted to Facebook, Tseshaht First Nation says survivors, community members and children from Haa-huu-payuk School were invited to help paint the bridge earlier this week.

“For many survivors of the [Alberni Indian Residential School], this bridge was a symbol of separation from their families, loved ones and communities,” the statement says. “The Every Child Matters/Orange Shirt Day awareness has been growing over the last number of years. Survivors felt it would be fitting to paint the bridge Orange to symbolize resilience, hope for the future and to raise awareness of the impacts of Residential Schools so that the pain they’ve endured never happens again. ”

This comes after the first phase of scanning for unmarked graves took place at the former Alberni Indian Residential School.

“At roughly 10pm on Friday September 30th, Tseshaht learned that racialized vandalism had taken place on the newly painted barricade,” the statement says. “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. Our Nuu-chah-nulth teaching of ḥaÄŤatakin cĚ“awaak reminds us that everything is one and all is connected. We are making efforts to bring our community together to move forward in a good way.”

Donna and Wally Samuel helped paint part of the bridge orange on Tuesday. They both attended Alberni Indian Residential School and told CHEK News children were not alowed to cross the bridge.

They returned to the bridge Sunday after hearing about the vandalism.

“I know it hurt a lot of people. It angered us you know, it angered us,” said Wally Samuel. “There are many idiot racist people around.”

“I don’t really want to point fingers at anybody because we are still healing,” said Donna Samuel. “I don’t know, unbelievable.”

Port Alberni Mayor Shari Minions told CHEK News Sunday she was “disgusted to see this vandalism.”

“While we have made great strides, this act shows how much work there still is to do within our community. Reconciliation, relationships, learning and understanding have never been more important,” Minions said in a post on Facebook. “Port Alberni is known for its coming together in crisis, and sadness to support. Today more than ever, let’s show an outpouring of support for all in our community who still struggle with racism every day.”

Port Alberni RCMP is investigating after vandals painted over part of the mural.

“Senseless acts such as this are unacceptable and troubling to our community, and revert the efforts towards truth and reconciliation,” stated Const. Richard Johns media relations officer in a news release. “Although this crime was not reported to our detachment officers are actively investigating any available leads.”

In a release, RCMP say the vandalism took place sometime overnight between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

Anyone with dash camera video or information as to who may be responsible for this are requested to contact the Port Alberni Detachment.

The paint from the vandalism has been washed off by community members, but the RCMP is still investigating.

This vandalism comes on the heels of Orange Shirt Day, which is also the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. A day to honour children who never returned home and those who attended residential schools.

Orange Shirt Day is held annually on Sept. 30, which is the date that was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year, according to the Orange Shirt Day website.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was declared a federal holiday in 2021 after the unmarked graves of children were found at residential schools across the country. Initially there were 215 unmarked graves found in Kamloops.

Since then, there have been more than 1,000 graves found at former residential schools across the country, with many school grounds still not having been searched, according to Dr. Marie Wilson, who served on the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

READ MORE: A brief history of Vancouver Island’s five residential schools, and the children who died there

A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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