Indigenous leaders from across southern Vancouver Island called for an end to recent incidents of violence and vandalism, including the destruction of a statue, the burning of a totem pole and online threats and abuse.
The leaders of nine Victoria-area First Nations signed a document Friday saying such acts are not supported by Indigenous communities and must stop.
The ceremony, which included a welcome song and traditional dancers, concluded with the almost two dozen Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders at the meeting each taking the chance to address the gathering with pledges to build understanding and respect.
These acts inflame the situation and “are not medicine,” said the document signed by the south Island chiefs at a ceremony at the Songhees Nation Wellness Centre.
“They fuel hate and inhibit the healing that is so deeply needed right now,” says the document. “The disrespectful and damaging acts we have seen are not helping. They are perpetuating hurt, hate and divide.”
A Canada Day crowd watched as the statue of Capt. James Cook was pulled from its pedestal near Victoria’s Inner Harbour, the head was torn off and the remains were tossed in the water.
A Malahat Nation totem pole was damaged in apparent retaliation and the document signed by the leaders said damaging property is not acceptable and must stop to prevent more destruction.
Earlier this year, the Cowichan Tribes of nearby Duncan reported acts of racism toward band members following reports of COVID-19 in the widespread community.
The declaration called on residents to “walk together, support each other and demonstrate humanity.”
Instead of violence and senseless destruction, the document said residents should “lock arms and look out for one another.”
Chief Allan Tom of the Victoria-area Pauquachin First Nation told the gathering after signing the document that young people are afraid to walk by themselves and elders are upset about the vandalism and burning of churches in B.C.’s Interior region.
“I worry about my youth and my elders, they’re disgusted with everything that’s taking place, and this today is just a small step to send a big wave out there that we do not tolerate this kind of behaviour,” said Tom. “I certainly do not condone or tolerate what’s taken place with the statue, the totem pole and the eye for an eye.”
He said the meeting was an important event in that it sends the message that people must come together despite difficult times.
“I really appreciate the words around coming together, out of the respect, the love and understanding for each other,” said Tom.
B.C’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin, Greater Victoria’s mayors and Victoria Police Chief Del Manak attended the gathering.
“This to me is a breath of fresh air to have the leadership step up in this way,” Manak said. “I’m humbled to be here and thank you for having me here.”
Songhees Chief Ron Sam said the recent events of violence and vandalism are setting a dangerous precedent and must stop.
People should not be afraid to walk in their homelands or be exposed to hate online, he said.
“We want to put a stop to racism today,” Sam said. “We have to start somewhere. We ask for calm.”
The Canadian Press
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