Manitoba

Fire destroys teepee at Brandon University in 'distressing offence to a powerful Indigenous symbol'

Dozens of people gathered to set up teepees in the courtyard of Brandon University in a show of solidarity and reconciliation after an overnight fire destroyed a teepee early Wednesday morning.

'We are truly stronger when we unite,' leaders says after dozens helped set up new teepees Wednesday afternoon

An overnight fire destroyed a teepee in the courtyard of Brandon University early Wednesday morning. Later in the day, dozens of people gathered to set up new teepees in Brandon University courtyard, in a show of solidarity and reconciliation. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Dozens of people gathered to set up teepees in the courtyard of Brandon University Wednesday in a show of solidarity and reconciliation after a teepee on campus was destroyed in a fire overnight.

Security at the southwestern Manitoba university called police around 5 a.m. Wednesday to report that between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m., a teepee in the centre court had burned, the Brandon Police Service said in a news release.

Although police said the cause of the fire is unknown at this time, both Brandon University and Jason Gobeil, a co-ordinator with the Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples' Council, suggested it was intentionally set.

"We had a beautiful time yesterday afternoon, setting up that teepee and sharing in the laughter, the learning and all of that greatness," Gobeil said Wednesday. "However, that changed overnight."

"This is a painful and distressing offence to a powerful Indigenous symbol," the university said in a news released posted on its website.

The teepee had been set up as part of a conference of the American Men's Studies Association, hosted by Brandon University. The conference invited scholars and researchers to "discuss some of the most pressing issues facing men and the latest research about masculinity," with a specific focus on an Indigenous and decolonial approach to masculinity, the university said in a news release.

The teepee was seen standing by security at 1:30 a.m., but by 2 a.m., all that remained were the charred poles and a blackened circle on the ground.

Brandon firefighters weren't called because the fire was out by the time the destruction was discovered.

'When it comes to reconciliation, it's all about community coming together,' Jason Gobeil, a co-ordinator with the Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples' Council, said in a Facebook Live video. 'For that, we have a beautiful community here.' (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Gobeil said the loss was made more painful for the mental image he carries of the teepee as a woman, standing in a traditional skirt with her arms open wide.

"When my elders showed up and when we really took it all in, it was very emotional," he said.

No witnesses have come forward so far, but police and Gobeil have asked anyone with information to help.

"We're going to keep moving forward and we're asking for you to stand with us," said Gobeil, "because it's so important that we as a community understand and acknowledge what it means to be respectful, what it means to be compassionate, and at the end of the day, what it means to forgive and to move forward as a community."

Brandon University said in its statement the community will come together to promote "diversity, tolerance and reconciliation" in the wake of the fire.

The destruction of the teepee "does not shake our commitment nor our confidence. It will only strengthen our efforts towards reconciliation," the statement said.

"We're not moving forward in anger. We've been able to find that forgiveness," Gobeil said Wednesday. "We've been able to see what reconciliation means from within, and then what those actions can mean from outside."

By Wednesday afternoon, dozens of people and teepee building materials had been spread out on the courtyard, in a second video posted by Gobeil.

"I think that our message spoke almost louder than what that message of the burning teepee did," he said. "We are truly stronger when we unite."

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