A collective of South Island First Nations has condemned recent acts of vandalism and violence in the region, in a joint letter signed Friday.
Chiefs from the Songhees, Esquimalt, Beecher Bay, T’Sou-ke, Malahat, Tsawout, Tsartlip, Pauquachin and Tseycum Nations gathered at the Songhees Wellness Centre on July 9 to speak out against acts they called “disrespectful and damaging.”
Together, each Chief signed a letter calling for an immediate end to all vandalism. It also calls on people to “not lose sight of the young ones that we are honouring,” and for better listening to Elders and survivors.
The letter specifically condemned “the damaging of property including statues and totem poles,” and said that everyone in the region needs to respect each other.
“These acts are not medicine,” the letter stated. “They fuel hate and inhibit the healing that is so deeply needed right now. The disrespectful and damaging acts we have seen are not helping, they are perpetuating hurt, hate, and divide.”
Last week, a statue of British explorer James Cook that overlooked Victoria’s Inner Harbour was pulled down and tossed into the water.
Shortly afterward, a totem on the Malahat Nation was set on fire, and the words “one totem — one statue” were spraypainted nearby.
Police are investigating both incidents and believe they are linked.
“It’s reached a point where members in all of our communities don’t feel safe,” said Songhees Chief Ron Sam, who hosted the signing and event.
He went on to speak about the positive relationships that have been built between neighbouring First Nations as well as non-Indigenous leadership and organizations in recent years.
Among those non-Indigenous leaders at the event were Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and VicPD Chief Del Manak, as well as Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin.
Mayors from Greater Victoria’s 13 municipalities were also in attendance, including Langford Mayor Stu Young, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, and Colwood Mayor Rob Martin.
Following the signing, speakers were invited to share their thoughts.
“I’m sad that things happened this way,” said Tseycum Nation Chief Tanya Jimmy. “We don’t do this as First Nations. We work together. Yes, there is hurt in those hearts. How do we move forward together?”
Several non-Indigenous leaders applauded the nine Nations for their statement, calling it “courageous” and also saying that the move is a positive step forward.
“Think how easy this was, to come together,” said Beecher Bay Chief Russell Chipps. “All you have to do is reach out a hand.”
The Songhees Nation recently posted a number of resources for people affected by the news about mass graves of Indigenous children.
- KUU-US Crisis Line Society: a 24-hour provincial Indigenous crisis line.
Adults call 250-723-4050
Children and youth call 250-723-2040
- First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line:
Phone toll-free 1-855-242-3310 or chat online at hopeforwellness.ca
- The Métis Crisis Line: available 24 hours a day at 1-833-MétisBC, 1-833-638-4722
- Tsow Tun Le Lum: Phone 1-888-403-3123 to access the following cultural supports: Levi Martin, James Quatell or Mike Kelly
- Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS): Phone 1-800-721-0066 or 604-985-4464 to access the following cultural supports: Sadie McPhee, Gertie Pierre or Yvonne Rigby Jones. Mental health and counselling services are also available from the IRSSS Resolution Health Support Workers.