The vice provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University says she was dismayed to learn a teepee on campus was slashed and torn this week.
Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux said she can't help but think the incident might have been motivated by racism and hopes it will start discussions about relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the city.
The teepee is located at the sweat lodge site on campus, a little further down from the main school buildings.
It was put up for the fall feast in September. When some staff members recently went to take it down before winter, they discovered it had been slashed with something like a knife.
"It's pretty bad,” Wesley-Esquimaux said. “They're pretty broad slashes. So the whole back is kind of in ribbons."
'We need to jump on this'
In the spring, she'd like to hold a feast, and invite all Lakehead students to come join in painting the repaired teepee.
"Rather than getting angry and creating more division I see an opportunity to create some positive interaction and unity around something,” she said.
“Because I don't believe that the majority of students at this university hate each other. I think that most of them are pretty accepting of each other."
Wesley-Esquimaux said she's personally experienced unsettling incidents of vandalism, including her car being damaged at her house. But she said she likes to think it's just kids that don't know better.
However, Wesley-Esquimaux said she's heard of other incidents.
"Some of the native kids are telling me that since [the protest movement] Idle No More [began] ... it's getting worse for them in Thunder Bay, in terms of some of the people throwing garbage at them from their cars ... hurling statements, and just being generally rude," she said.
"We really need to do something about this we need to jump on this before it gets completely out of hand."
Wesley-Esquimaux said they have notified university security about the vandalism, and have notified police, as well as the city's committee that keeps track of race-based incidents.