On July 9th, the Chiefs of the Songhees Nation, Esquimalt Nation, Beecher Bay First Nation, T’Sou-ke Nation, Malahat First Nation, ­Tsawout First Nation, Tsartlip First Nation, ­Pauquachin First Nation and Tseycum First Nation came together to issue a joint statement condemning violence in their territories and calling for peace.

Chiefs from nine First Nations gather to issue a joint statement condemning violence and calling for peace. Image courtesy of Randall Garrison

The rising death toll attributed to Crown and Church-sponsored Residential Schools led to the cancellation of Canada Day and an outpouring of support as South Island residents gathered at the legislature in orange shirts. During this peaceful rally, however, the statue of James Cook was toppled, spurring retaliatory violence and increased racism against Indigenous people across the South Island.

Online and in-person threats of retaliation against South Island Indigenous communities have increased. These acts of racism are occurring in public when people are grocery shopping or they are just walking in the community. The Songhees Nation has hired 24/7 security to protect their longhouse and totems. This escalating violence, including the retaliatory burning of a totem pole in Tsartlip and Malahat shared Territory on YOS mountain, led the nine Chiefs to step in before ­further destruction occurred.

Songhees Chief Ron Sam at the Songhees Wellness Centre: “Right now, a lot of people don’t feel safe going out alone.”

Although the removal of the Cook statue was flagged as an issue by Songhees First Nation to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, the method of its removal during Canada day was not condoned by any Nation’s leadership.

Tsartlip Chief Don Tom shares:

While the removal of the James Cook statue reminds the public of our presence, it is a two-edged political tool. On one hand, it pushes the envelope and forces the public to confront the real issues. On the other, it can embolden racists, sway moderates, and put Indigenous people in harm’s way. As a result, we do not condone this behaviour. We support calls for the cancellation of Canada Day, and we support those who are grieving the loss of our children, but we do not support the destruction of property in their name.”

Chief Allan Tom of the Pauquachin First Nation told the gathering that young people are afraid to walk by themselves and elders are upset about the vandalism and burning of churches in B.C.’s Interior.

“I worry about my youth and my elders. They’re disgusted with everything that’s taking place. And, this today is just a small step to send a big wave out there that we do not tolerate this kind of behaviour,” said Tom. “I certainly do not condone or tolerate what’s taken place with the statue, the totem pole, and the eye for an eye.”

He said the meeting was an important event in that it sends the message that people must come together despite difficult times.

The joint statement, signed in person by the South Island Chiefs on July 9th at the Songhees Wellness Centre, asked instead for respect for First Nations’ values of peace and dialogue in honouring the victims and survivors of residential schools.

“We are leaders of the South Island Indigenous communities and these acts are not ours, we do not support them, and we do not believe in ­dividing ­communities,” they said in a joint statement prepared by Chiefs of the Songhees Nation, Esquimalt Nation, Beecher Bay First Nation, T’Sou-ke Nation, Malahat First Nation, ­Tsawout First Nation, Tsartlip First Nation, ­Pauquachin First Nation and Tseycum First Nation.

The signing of the statement and ceremony, which included a welcome song and traditional dancers, concluded with almost two dozen Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders at the meeting pledging to build understanding and respect.

The declaration calls on southern Vancouver Island residents to “walk together, support each other and demonstrate humanity.” Local Victoria-area politicians were asked to relay the message from the Chiefs back to their communities. 

“These acts are not medicine, they fuel hate and inhibit the healing that is so deeply needed right now. The ­disrespectful and damaging acts we have seen are not helping. They are perpetuating hurt, hate and division,” the joint statement said.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said it was a powerful moment to have nearly all mayors and Chiefs in the region standing together. 

Chief Allan Tom of the Pauquachin First Nation said he hopes this event will be one of many for local leaders, “not only when bad things happen.”

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