A bridge leading to a former boarding school on Vancouver Island vandalized with racial slurs


WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

Tseshaht First Nation condemns act of hate after a bridge leading to a former residential school on Vancouver Island was defaced with an anti-Indigenous slur during the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

According to the First Nation, the incident happened around 10 p.m. Friday at the Riverbend Bridge, known locally as the Orange Bridge, which crosses the Somass River in Port Alberni, British Columbia, at Highway 4 and Falls Street.

A barrier at the entrance to the bridge had been painted with the slogan « Every child matters » — a reference to the thousands of children who died in residential schools run by the federal government. On Friday, someone wrote about the word « child » and replaced it with a hateful slur against indigenous people.

The Orange bridge was recently repainted by the First Nation before the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The Tseshaht First Nation said the province’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure helped pay for the recent painting of the bridge. (Tseshaht First Nation/Facebook)

“While this type of act does not come as a surprise to many, it is a sad reminder of the depth of work that we, as a community and society at large, have ahead of us to eliminate racism,” reads in a statement from the Prime Minister. Nation on Saturday.

Before the bridge was vandalized on Friday, more than 1,000 survivors and community members marched to the site of the former Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) to honor the children who died there.

“After the uplifting day of community gathering that took place [on Friday]we hope this hurtful and disrespectful act will not bring our survivors down,” the statement read.

Port Alberni RCMP said they are investigating the incident and are asking anyone with information to contact them.

« Senseless acts like this are unacceptable and disturbing to our community, and subvert efforts toward truth and reconciliation, » said Const. Richard Johns in a statement.

Number of deaths at the old school

The Riverbend Bridge, located near the Tseshaht administration building, was painted orange for many years before being painted gray in 1990.

AIRS is only a few blocks away. Children from more than 100 First Nations in British Columbia were forced to attend the school during its operation from 1900 to 1973. Much of the old school was demolished by survivors in 2009 when the land was supported by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council. .

A green building stands among the trees.  A black vehicle is parked in front.
Caldwell Hall is one of the last remaining buildings that was part of the old boarding school, according to Chief-Elect Ken Watts. (Submitted by Tseshaht First Nation)

Four AIRS teachers later pleaded guilty to acts of child abuse at school.

A number of children have died there during its many years of operation, according to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation.

In July, the Tseshaht First Nation announced its intention to use ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves on 100 hectares on the site of the old school. The first phase of this work began on September 23, according to the First Nation.

Tseshaht’s elected leader Ken Watts, also known as Wahmeesh, recently told CBC News that the bridge brought back painful and traumatic memories, and that survivors wanted it to turn orange again to signal a new beginning.

The slogan « Every child matters » was repainted on Saturday with the help of volunteers, according to the First Nation.

Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or recent reports.

A National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line has been established to provide support to survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24/7 through the Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.


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