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‘This is not reconciliation’

‘This is not reconciliation’
Indigenous leaders are calling for more education and an RCMP investigation after a man hung this sign from the Muskoday Bridge Wednesday morning. -- Photo submitted by Muskoday First Nation.

The chief of Muskoday First Nation said her community is angry and upset after a man hung a pair of shoes, and a “White Lives Matter” sign from the Muskoday Bridge on Hwy 3 southeast of Prince Albert on Wednesday.

The sign, which also included a sentence implying Indigenous people do not work or pay taxes, was hung in broad daylight between 9:00 and 9:45 a.m., according to Saskatchewan RCMP. Muskoday Chief Ava Bear said she views the poster as a hate crime, and urged the RCMP to investigate the person who placed it there.

“It’s really evident that ignorance plays a key role in the situation that happened here today,” Bear told reporters during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “To me it’s disgusting that this individual, this man, would hang these shoes.”

Bear said residents witnessed a man stop on the bridge and hang the sign and shoes Wednesday morning. Those witnesses recorded the colour and model of the man’s vehicle, as well as his appearance. Bear declined to give those details when asked by reporters.

She said the incident angered her when she first heard about it, and several hours later she was stilling fuming.

“We’re working on reconciliation, and then to have an individual who would have the audacity to do something like that, it’s just totally not acceptable,” Bear said. “It’s blatant racism. This individual did this in the light of day. They didn’t try to hide themselves. They parked their vehicle right on the highway. We have witnesses who saw the vehicle, who saw the individual hanging the shoes, so like I said, it’s blatant. It’s totally uncalled for, and it’s totally unacceptable, and I’m just … I’m just appalled.”

Muskoday residents hung 215 pairs of moccasins and a sage bundle along the bridge in June as part of a tribute to the 215 children found in an unmarked grave at a former residential school site in Kamloops.

Bear said her community was also hurt and angered by the sign and the pair of shoes, and by the suggestion that First Nations communities value some lives more than others.

“To my thinking and my knowledge, no one has ever disputed that all lives matter, and it’s really important that that be said,” Bear told reporters. “The finding of these children’s bodies may have seemed to some like we’re placing an over-importance on First Nations lives, but in reality, we know—everybody knows—that all lives matter. That’s an understatement.”

The Saskatchewan RCMP confirmed that the First Nation asked them to investigate the incident, but said that investigation was still in the early stages. They received the complaint at around noon on Wednesday, and urged any witnesses with information to come forward.

FSIN second Vice-Chief David Pratt said there has to be some accountability for individuals who act in this manner, or similar actions would continue across Saskatchewan.

“We don’t want this to start happening in our other member nations,” Pratt said. “We want to ensure that this is something that all of society, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous, looks down and condemns strongly as unacceptable in this day and age, especially in light of reconciliation.”

Pratt said the sign shows there are still a lot of unfounded stereotypes about Indigenous people in Saskatchewan. He said there needs to be more education about the treaties, and what rights Indigenous people do and do not have under them. He also wants to see an anti-racism strategy developed in partnership with the provincial government.

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand called the sign a deplorable and unacceptable act of ignorance. He said Indigenous people across the region were hurt and angered by the man’s actions, and by the insinuation that First Nations people did not work or contribute taxes.

“We have an opportunity here to help this man … deal with whatever he’s dealing with in a proper way, because this is not reconciliation,” Arcand said. “This (sign) is promoting hatred and anger towards Indigenous people. I know for a fact this community has not said—and other First Nations communities have not said—white lives don’t matter. Every life matters, and when we still hear the things that First Nations people don’t’ pay taxes, (that is) totally unacceptable. This is going too far, and I think it has to be addressed.

“When you see the shoes attached to that (sign) that’s really gut-wrenching,” he added. “We’re going through a tough time as Indigenous people and for that person to make that strong of a gesture, it tells me we’ve got to do more work inside of our city, and inside of PA.”

Like Bear, Arcand said the sign has caused a lot of anger and hurt on social media. However, both leaders urged residents to move forward in the spirit of reconciliation. They also offered to meet with the man if he comes forward.

“We have to educate people and have some understanding, so we can get rid of this negativity and live in a safe environment,” Arcand said. “You hear Chief Ava Bear say her community is hurt by it. Nobody should be hurt by this kind of stuff, but it keeps happening to Indigenous people, and we’ve got to find a way to rally, to support each other, so it doesn’t keep happening.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want to see this anywhere else in the province of Saskatchewan, or across Canada, because Indigenous people have been through enough. It’s time to reconcile and work together.”

“I definitely would like an apology from this individual (for) this type of thinking,” Bear added. “I’d like this individual to stand with us and try to understand us, maybe attend some of our ceremonies or come and have tea with us, you know, get to know us. I think this individual must not really know us at all, or who we are.”

Muskoday isn’t the first community where “White Lives Matter” signs have popped up. The City of North Battleford reported a few last March after the RCMP’s Civilian Review and Complaints Commission released their report on how police treated the family of Colten Boushie the night he was killed.

Arcand said they haven’t seen anything like this before in the Saskatoon Tribal Area, where they’ve been successful in educating the public about the residential schools and the treaties.

Pratt said he also rarely sees these types of actions in Saskatchewan. The latest he could remember occurred in Melville, when Painted Hand Casino moved their powwow to Melville to help build relationships, and someone put up a sign saying Indigenous people were not welcome.

However, Pratt said relations have improved in Melville, and he was pleased to see the community cancel its Canada Day celebrations out of respect for nearby Cowessess First Nation, where 751 unmarked graves were discovered near the site of an old residential school.