British Columbia

Osoyoos Indian Band mulls closing pictograph site after vandals deface it with obscenities

University of Victoria anthropologist Chris Arnett said schools should educate people about the significance of Indigenous cultures to help prevent the defacement of their ancient art.

Chief Clarence Louie calls vandal 'racist criminal' for the offensive graffiti

Osoyoos Indian Band chief Clarence Louie calls the vandal a "racist criminal" for the offensive graffiti on a pictograph in the band's reserve. (CBC)

Warning: This story contains offensive language.

The Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) is considering fencing off its reserve land east of Osoyoos Lake, B.C., after a First Nations pictograph was defaced with graffiti.

A band security patrol officer found the graffiti on the rock painting at Rattlesnake Point on Saturday. The doodles, in black spray paint, include offensive language: "F--kin ch-g sh-t" and "F--k this dirty rez."

Vandalism occurs on Indigenous rock sites across Canada, but has been rare, said University of Victoria anthropology instructor Chris Arnett, who studies archeology in the B.C. Interior and other B.C. regions.

Arnett was first introduced to the Osoyoos pictographs by a band member about 40 years ago.

"It probably represents something from the very ancient mythological tribe," Arnett said about the historical significance of the Osoyoos Indian Band rock art site. "They [the pictographs] have been known for hundreds, if not thousands of years."

Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie said he's upset by the vandalism committed by what he calls a "racist criminal." 

"In the Okanagan [we] got some very bad racist people around us here," Louie told Sarah Penton, host of CBC's Radio West. "They need to be punished big time."

Osoyoos Indian Band Coun. Nathan McGinnis said the council will consult with elders and the community about their next steps to protect the heritage site. He said the OIB reserve, surrounded by fences, would look like it's been "handcuffed" but closing the site from public access seems the only option to prevent vandalism.

"If our elders are OK with it, I'm 100 per cent for it, because we can't have this [act of vandalism happening] again."

A security patrol officer of Osoyoos Indian Band found the defacement in black spray paint. (Submitted by Nathan McGinnis)

But Arnett doesn't want the reserve land to be fenced off since the provincial government already has one of North America's most stringent heritage preservation regulations to deter people from trespassing and damaging First Nations properties. 

The anthropologist said education about Indigenous cultures is important to prevent vandalism from happening again, especially when the population of the B.C. Interior is growing. Many newcomers to the region may not know the significance of the archeological sites.

"They [local schools] should have courses on Indigenous peoples and knowledge and history, starting in kindergarten," said Arnett.

He believes spray paint isn't as strong as colouring used for Native paintings and will eventually fade away.

McGinnis said even in the best case scenario, with advanced cleaning technology, the graffiti could still look like a blur on the rock.

Nathan McGinnis and fellow Osoyoos Indian Band councillors will consult with elders and the community on whether to fence off the reserve from public access in order to prevent vandalism on pictographs. (Osoyoos Indian Band)

"Whenever you see that site, you'll see a little bit of a blur there, and you'll remember what happened," said Louie.

In an emailed statement to CBC, RCMP say the Osoyoos RCMP has initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident and will reach out to Louie to start the investigative process. 

It asks anyone with any information about the vandalism on the Osoyoos pictograph to contact the Osoyoos RCMP at 250-495-7236.

With files from Radio West