British Columbia

Bridge leading to former residential school on Vancouver Island vandalized with racial slur

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

Riverbend Bridge near Port Alberni, B.C., was recently painted to say 'Every child matters'

A barricade with the words 'Every Child Matters' has the 'child' blurred out.
A barrier at Riverbend Bridge, which leads to the site of a former residential school in Port Alberni, B.C., was vandalized with an anti-Indigenous slur on Friday night, according to RCMP. (Port Alberni RCMP)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

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

According to the First Nation, the incident happened around 10 p.m. on Friday at the Riverbend Bridge, known locally as the Orange Bridge, which crosses the Somass River in Port Alberni, B.C., 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 federally run residential schools. On Friday, someone wrote over the word "child" and replaced it with a hateful slur against Indigenous people.

Orange Bridge was repainted recently by the First Nation in advance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

A group of people in high-vis vests stand over a barricade reading 'Every Child Matters'.
The Tseshaht First Nation said the province's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure helped pay for the recent repainting of the bridge. (Tseshaht First Nation/ Facebook)

"Unfortunately, some misinformed people decided to take amongst themselves and show ... disrespect and vandalizing this beautiful new site," said Wahmeesh (Ken Watts), elected chief councillor of Tseshaht First Nation.

"This hurt a lot of survivors that went through terrible atrocities and abuses — that triggered them."

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

"After the uplifting day of community gathering that took place [on Friday], we hope that this hurtful and disrespectful act does not bring our survivors down," a statement from the First Nation read.

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

"Senseless acts such as this are unacceptable and troubling to our community, and revert the efforts towards truth and reconciliation," said Const. Richard Johns in a statement.

Number of deaths at former school

Riverbend Bridge, which is located close to the Tseshaht administrative building, was painted orange for many years before it was painted grey in 1990.

AIRS is only a few blocks away. Children from more than 100 First Nations in B.C. were forced to attend the school during its operation from 1900 to 1973. Much of the former school was torn down by survivors in 2009 when the land was taken over by the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council.

A green building stands in amongst trees. There is a black vehicle parked out front.
Caldwell Hall is one of the last remaining buildings that was part of the former residential school, according to elected Chief Ken Watts. (Submitted by the Tseshaht First Nation)

Four teachers at AIRS went on to plead guilty for acts of abuse at the school.

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

In July, the Tseshaht First Nation announced plans to use ground-penetrating radar to search for unmarked graves across 100 hectares at the site of the former school. The first phase of that work started on Sept. 23, according to the First Nation.

Wahmeesh told CBC News the bridge brought back painful and traumatic memories, and survivors wanted it returned to orange to signal a new beginning.

The "Every Child Matters" slogan was repainted on Saturday with the assistance of volunteers, according to Wahmeesh, who said the community had received many messages expressing sympathy after the vandalism.

"That's what we need to focus on, is those people that are stepping up," he said.

"But also, not ease up on our education so that the next generation of Canadians ... will be free of racism, or be better informed about what happened so that they can teach their kids a better level of respect."


Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.

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

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Akshay Kulkarni

Journalist

Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at akshay.kulkarni@cbc.ca.

With files from Christina Jung and Courtney Dickson

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