By Scott McLean
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Wood Buffalo RCMP are investigating the vandalization of a memorial dedicated to victims and survivors of the residential school system.
The memorial featured hundreds of shoes placed on the stairs of Jubilee Centre Plaza and were to remain until Sept. 30, which is the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. The memorial was assembled in late May as a response to the discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites.
Police confirmed on Aug. 30 that on Aug. 28, Wood Buffalo RCMP received a report of mischief in front of Jubilee Plaza. Officers arrived to find shoes taken from their original setting and moved to a pile near a flower bed with a sign stating “Garage Sale, all items free.” For now, the incident is being investigated as mischief and not a hate crime.
“We are taking it very seriously,” said Sergeant Jennifer Arnold of Wood Buffalo RCMP. “It happened during the afternoon when it was light out, so hopefully someone who was in the area at the time saw something.”
The municipality, McMurray Metis and Athabasca Tribal Council (ATC) condemning the incident in a Monday evening joint statement.
“McMurray Metis was deeply saddened that someone would be so heartless to remove this beautiful memorial in honour of residential school victims and all the Indigenous children’s lives that were lost,” said McMurray Metis president Peter Hansen in the statement.
“The recent vandalism of the memorial for residential school victims highlights the racism we fight every day,” said Allan Adam, president of the ATC and chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, in the statement. “When ignorant acts are combined with dishonouring the memorials of the children that died in residential schools, the trauma to residential school survivors, their families and our communities continues.”
The RMWB is running a six-week reconciliation challenge online.
The statement reiterated calls to raise awareness about reconciliation.
“This shameful act of vandalism and racism holds no place in our region,” said Mayor Don Scott in the statement. “We can’t sit idly by when racism happens in our community. We must all speak out and condemn these acts in the strongest terms possible. An act like this is intolerable in our region_and it serves as a clear reminder that stronger action is needed to advance reconciliation.”
Anyone with information about this investigation or criminal activity in Wood Buffalo is asked to contact Wood Buffalo RCMP at 780-788-4040 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS). Tips to Crime Stoppers are always anonymous and can be also be made online at P3tips.com or with the P3 Tips app available through the Apple App and Google Play stores.
Scott McLean is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the FORT MCMURRAY TODAY. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.