2 separate vandalisms in Calgary disrespectful, show 'dark history,' Indigenous educator says

Two separate incidents of vandalism at Indigenous sites in one week shows the need for more education, a Blood Tribe educator says.

Two people arrested, but not charged, in incident at Siksikaitsitapi Medicine Wheel

Stones from the Siksikaitsitapi Medicine Wheel at Nose Hill Park have been moved and red crosses were placed between them. (Supplied by Giovanna Longhi)

People gathered for a ceremony to reinstate red ribbons for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Calgary Saturday after they were discovered in the garbage.

Across the city, two people were arrested for vandalizing an important cultural site for the Blackfoot Confederacy. 

Having the two separate incidents happen in one week shows more education is needed, a Blood Tribe educator says. 

Calgarian Giovanna Longhi was walking her dog at Nose Hill Park Friday near the Siksikaitsitapi Medicine Wheel when she noticed its stones had been moved and red crosses were placed between them. 

"I was very concerned that the defacing of this property was very, very traumatic for not only the Blackfoot Indigenous peoples of this area...defacing or not understanding our collective history can lead to hate," she said. 

The incident was reported to Calgary police who confirmed two people were arrested Friday, but not charged. Police said the case is still under investigation and they are "liaising with the diversity resource team" to determine if charges are appropriate.

In a statement on Monday, the city said parks staff are resetting the stones that were moved and work is being completed on new educational, interpretive signage for the site to explain its significance.

Red ribbons, which honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, were reinstated in Calgary this week after they were found in the garbage. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Tarra Wright Many Chief, owner and operator at Many Chief Tours, provides educational tours at the Siksikaitsitapi Medicine Wheel. Wright Many Chief is a member of the Blood Tribe and the Blackfoot Confederacy.

She says this is not the first time the medicine wheel has been vandalized, and combined with the red ribbons being thrown in the trash, she feels upset and disrespected. 

"I often wonder, does that make people unhappy because it shows that Canada does have a dark history that people didn't know about?"

While the motivation behind both incidents is unclear, Wright Many Chief says people need to know why the medicine wheel and ribbons exist in the first place. 

The traditional medicine wheel at top of Nose Hill Park was built in 2015 as a sacred spot for reflection and prayer. The rocks, some of which have now been moved, were constructed in the shape of the Siksikaitsitapi logo — representing the Blood, Siksika and Northern and Southern Peigan tribes. 

The traditional medicine wheel at the top of Nose Hill Park was built in 2015 as a sacred spot for reflection and prayer. Police say two people have been arrested in connection to the vandalism of this space earlier this week. (Supplied by Giovanna Longhi)

"It's really important to have that space and have that connection...Indigenous people are still thriving in this area and it kind of connects the past to the future," Wright Many Chief said. 

'What it's like to be Indigenous in Canada'

Red ribbons honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls were returned to Memorial Drive in Calgary during a ceremony this Saturday, after they were found in the garbage.

The ribbons, each with a name representing an Indigenous life lost, were tied to trees in May on Red Dress Day after ceremony and prayer. 

Yvonne Henderson realized the trees were bare while driving by earlier this week as the memorial to Canadian veterans maintained by the Field of Crosses organisation was taking shape. 

She scanned the area to see where they were and eventually found them in the trash.

"It's shocking, but it's not at the same time, right? Being Niitsitapi, being Indigenous in Canada, and Calgary especially, isn't the greatest at times," she said.

Henderson attended the ceremony to reinstate the ribbons. Part of her feels happy that they're back, but their removal in the first place is unacceptable and doesn't show any effort toward reconciliation, she said.

"Even though it's not fancy like the crosses behind, even though we don't have the kind of funding to have this kind of beautiful setup — our ribbons are attached to nature," Henderson said.

"We would never go to someone's headstone, who we've never met, and go deface it because that's disrespectful."

Ultimately, Henderson hopes this incident will serve as a teachable moment. Each ribbon has a story of a family, clan, nation and community attached to it, she said.

"Once you start Googling the names, you'll start understanding the actual reality of what it's like to be Indigenous in Canada."

Yvonne Henderson says each red ribbon has a story attached to it. She was part of a ceremony to bring the ribbons back to the Field of Crosses in Calgary. (Helen Pike/CBC)

News of the ribbons being thrown in the garbage triggered "immediate grief" for Deborah Green, a missing and murdered Indigenous women advocate.

"A lot of prayer and ceremony go into those ribbons, so they're really symbolic of our loved ones who have been murdered or gone missing," she said. 

Going forward, Green wants to see respect for the memorials honouring those who have been taken away.

Also, she wants Canadians to be aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report and its 94 calls to action, as well as the Reclaiming Power and Place Report — the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls containing 231 calls to action. Green says many Canadians aren't familiar with the latter.


Jade Markus

Digital journalist

Jade Markus is a digital journalist at CBC Calgary.

With files from Helen Pike and Sarah Moore