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‘Every Child Matters’ sign on Vancouver Island bridge defaced, repainted

'Every Child Matters' sign on Vancouver Island bridge defaced, repainted thumbnail

Hateful vandalism of the Historically Orange Bridge over the Somass River in Port Alberni lasted just hours before Tseshaht First Nation members and supporters removed it Saturday morning.

Ken Watts, the nation’s elected chief councillor, told CTV News he started getting messages from friends and members around 10 p.m. Friday.

Photos of the vandalism showed that the Every Child Matters message that survivors of the Alberni Indian Residential School painted on the concrete barrier in front of the bridge earlier this week had been defaced, with the word “child” modified to a “derogatory, racist name,” Watts said.

The Tseshaht First Nation recently finished a ground-penetrating radar search at the former residential school, and on Friday – the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – more than 1,000 people participated in a walk to honour survivors that passed over the bridge.

“On the same night, this happens,” Watts said, describing the vandalism as “disgraceful.”

“It just shows me that we have a lot of work to do,” he added.

At the same time, Watts said the reaction to the defaced sign was immediate and “amazing.”

Some Tseshaht members noticed the vandalism while the paint was still wet and were able to remove some of it with soap and water, the chief councillor said.

On Saturday morning, he and others made their way to the bridge to repaint the sign, work they completed before noon.

Watts said the outpouring of support his nation has received since the vandalism has been encouraging.

“It shows there’s a lot of people out there that want to help our communities and support us,” he said.

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Photos of the vandalism showed that the Every Child Matters message that survivors of the Alberni Indian Residential School painted on the concrete barrier in front of the bridge earlier this week had been defaced, with the word “child” modified to a “derogatory, racist name,” Watts said. (Port Alberni RCMP)

POLICE INVESTIGATING

Port Alberni RCMP are investigating the vandalism and asking anyone with dash cam video or information about who was responsible for defacing the signs 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 news release.

“Although this crime was not reported to our detachment officers are actively investigating any available leads.”

HONOURING SURVIVORS

Watts said the first thing he thought about when he saw that the barrier had been defaced was how hurtful it could be to residential school survivors in his community.

Heading west along Highway 4, the Historically Orange Bridge crosses the Somass River and enters the Tseshaht First Nation, where the Alberni Indian Residential School once sat just a few hundred metres away.

The bridge is a constant reminder to survivors of what happened there, to the point that some won’t cross it because it reminds them of the school, according to Watts. 

The recent paint job restored the bridge to the colour it was painted in the 1980s, but it also added the Every Child Matters message and the symbolic meaning the colour orange has come to represent.

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In its current incarnation, the bridge is meant to honour all of the children who attended the school, but Watts says the key to maintaining that meaning will be education.

He said reconciliation requires calling out racist incidents like the one that happened Friday night and educating others about what residential schools were and the harm they caused. 

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