When a mural in Summerland with a Truth and Reconciliation message was vandalized, I was discouraged and disgusted, but not surprised.
The art work, at the Summerland Secondary School tennis courts, had been created in late September and early October, to coincide with the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30. It was a student-driven initiative, led by three Grade 12 students and involving other students.
The words, ‘Every Child Matters’ are written on this mural in English, French, Cree and Syilx. In addition, there are handprints, placed by students and members of the community in recognition of the thousands of Indigenous children who died while in the care of church-run residential schools. My handprint is one of the hundreds on that wall.
On May 10, less than eight months after it had been completed, this mural has been defaced. Bright pink spray paint now covers part of the students’ work.
I was angry with the person or people who did this. And I felt a sense of shame over what had been done. This hadn’t happened somewhere else. It was here, in a town I love and where I have lived and worked for almost three decades.
What happened cannot be seen as a senseless act of vandalism. It wasn’t done on a random wall in Summerland, or even on one of the other murals around the community. It was done on the mural with a Truth and Reconciliation message.
No matter who was responsible for defacing this wall, there was no way the meaning behind the mural could have been missed.
This act was not an anomaly. It was another in a series of incidents in Summerland involving racial hatred.
In the last two years, I have covered at least eight instances of racism, racial hate or efforts to combat racism here in Summerland. Just two years. These are not faded memories from the distant past – this is the present.
I have also been hearing and reading an increasing number of offensive and derogatory comments about visible minorities, made by people in this community.
I wish this latest incident could become the catalyst for some much-needed change in attitudes about race and tolerance, but I doubt if such change is possible right now.
During each of the race-related incidents over the past two years, the responses have been similar.
Some have said the expressions of hatred must have been done by youths or by transients. Others have said these are anomalies and do not represent the community. Such comments are an attempt to distance the speaker from the issue.
Some people have simply stated, “But I’m not a racist.” This response effectively shuts down any opportunity for dialogue. Once again, the issue is left unresolved.
Not everyone responds in these ways, but the loudest voices come from those downplaying the problem or distancing themselves from it.
In the end, it will not matter who was responsible for these acts of racial hate.
These things have occurred here, in this town. Those of us who are part of this community need to work to find a solution.
We live here, and this is our problem.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.
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