Mounties on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver are looking for the person responsible for threatening to tear down two totem poles, apparently in retaliation for any toppling of statues of historical figures.
The threat was spray painted on a banner that was discovered Tuesday morning, strung between the two poles at the entrance to Pender Harbour Secondary School.
Patrick Bocking, superintendent of schools for the Sunshine Coast school district, said staff immediately tore down the banner and called the RCMP.
“This is somewhat heartbreaking to see such a thing from anyone,” Bocking said. “It was absolutely a disappointment.”
The poles are the work of shíshálh master carver Arnold Jones, created with the help of students at the school.
The shíshálh Nation issued a written statement Wednesday condemning the vandalism, as well as a separate incident reported Tuesday where the word “conquered” was painted on a highway sign containing shíshálh language.
“Our Nation members are saddened and upset by these most recent acts of racism,” hiwus (Chief) Warren Paull said.
“Of course, we are not surprised. 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.”
Sunshine Coast RCMP are circulating surveillance photos of a suspect in the incident in the hope that someone can identify the person responsible.
“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,” Const. Jihan McDougall said in a news release.
“There is no tolerance for this type of behaviour and we will work very hard to find the person responsible.”
‘It’s just not carefully thought through’
The banner was made with a large piece of fabric tied to the poles with rope at all four corners.
An image provided by the shíshálh Nation shows a square of material painted with the grammatically incorrect message, “If u touch George/Stanley/or John A., ur totem’s will start falling.”
Bocking said it appears the threat may be a reaction to ongoing debates in the U.S. over the toppling of statues of Confederate generals and other historical figures who owned slaves or committed racist violence.
Closer to home, there have been heated discussions about statues of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, because of his anti-Indigenous policies, including the establishment of the residential school system. A statue of Macdonald was removed from the front steps of Victoria City Hall two years ago.
But there have been no such debates in Pendour Harbour, according to Bocking.
“We try to make sense of the messaging, and it’s really not possible,” he said.
Bocking said it’s possible that “George” refers to a statue an hours’ drive away in Gibsons that commemorates town founder George Gibson, though he’s unaware of any movement to tear down that monument.
“Stanley” may refer to Lord Frederick Stanley, whose statue greets visitors to Stanley Park in Vancouver, but it’s not clear that anyone is calling for that piece to be removed, either.
“It’s just not carefully thought through, and of course it seems to be coming from a really unfortunate attitude about how things are worked through in a community,” Bocking said.
shíshálh Nation thanks community for support
Despite the two separate incidents on Tuesday, representatives of the shíshálh say their spirits have been buoyed by support from people across B.C.
“This is the most heartening thing,” Coun. Selina August said in the written statement.
“While we woke up today 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.”
Anyone who has information about the threats to the totem poles is asked to call RCMP at 604-885-2266.