British Columbia

Indigenous woman mourning Kamloops victims says she was subjected to racial slurs; police don't take statement

RCMP have since reopened the case and are reviewing why it was closed in the first place. The victim has filed a formal complaint against the officer to whom she initially reported the incident.

RCMP have since reopened the case and are reviewing why it was closed in the first place

Tara Aleck was sitting on her front steps holding a personal vigil for the victims of the Kamloops residential school when she says two men hurled racial insults at her. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Tara Aleck was hit hard when she found out about the tragic discovery adjacent to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Her parents are survivors of the same school where the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation says preliminary findings of a ground-penetrating radar survey indicate the discovery of a burial site containing the remains of 215 children.

So on May 31, Aleck, of Ts'kw'aylaxw First Nation, went on her front porch in Pemberton to mourn. She held a small vigil with her abalone shell, a small stuffed animal and smudge bowl filled with sage.

"I was in deep prayer, praying for my Dad, my Mom, my ancestors, all of the [215] children," she told CBC News.

That's when she says she was startled by the sound of a truck. Two men were inside, and allegedly hurled two racial slurs at her before laughing and driving away.

"I was basically in shock," she told CBC News. "I was like, 'What is going on here?'"

Aleck says she raised her hands and attempted to confront the pair before they drove off.

Aleck reported the incident to the Pemberton RCMP. Officers responded to the incident by questioning the two men, but police never took her statement before concluding the investigation.

Aleck's parents were survivors of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Aleck says the past few days have been an unsettling reminder of both the prevalence of overt racism in her own community and systemic racism within institutions like the RCMP.

"The officer literally gave me five minutes of his time, said he was going to contact me later on that day, call before he came [to my home] and take my statement — to which he didn't," she said. "I didn't understand how it concluded if I was the one that phoned and my statement wasn't taken."

The incident has since been reopened by police, who are now reviewing why it was closed in the first place.

People gather outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School as they welcome a group of runners from the Syilx Okanagan Nation taking part in the Spirit of Syilx Unity Run, an annual run to unify the community, in Kamloops on Saturday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"[R]egretfully, the file was concluded without obtaining a statement from the complainant," Insp. Robert Dykstra wrote in a statement.

Aleck says she's filed a formal complaint against the officer who responded to her initial report.

"[It's] really infuriating, just being an Indigenous woman and not having a voice, or just being treated so unfairly like I don't matter. I basically became non-existent in this whole file, which is mind-blowing to me," she said.

In his statement, Dykstra said police "shared our concerns with her about the way the file was handled and we assured her that a complete review of the file will occur and will be shared with the complainant to discuss next steps."

Police did not release the names of the suspects alleged to have used the racial slurs. Aleck said the vehicle was emblazoned with a company name on the side. CBC News made contact with the company over email, which claimed that false accusations had been made against it. Further requests for comment weren't returned.

Calls for education

Aleck says she wants to see accountability — both from the police and those alleged to have said the racial slurs.

"There's just so much systemic racism and it's alive. It's still here," she said. "All of us in Canada, every nation, every race, should be collectively working together to make Canada a better place."

Dawn Smith, an assistant professor of Indigenous governance at the University of Victoria, said it highlights the need for cultural competency training for police and more education across the board.

"People don't recognize their own prejudice or bias," she told CBC News. "There is simply no understanding with respect to the history of Canada, colonization, and the policing of Indigenous peoples."

"So much work has to be done," she said.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.