Calgary Indigenous and church communities react to vandalism in wake of residential school tragedies

Volunteers and staff members at nearly a dozen Calgary churches spent much of Friday morning cleaning up the aftermath of vandalized door frames and messages reflecting atrocities against Indigenous people painted onto their properties.

Pastor David Edosa with All Nations Full Gospel Church in Inglewood was overwhelmed when he first saw his church doors covered in red handprints.

The marking also includes the number ‘215’, indicating the vandalism could be in response to the recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves near the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

“When we got here and saw what happened we were all shocked and disheartened and it was a complete surprise to us,” Edosa said.

“We happen to occupy a former Catholic church, we’ve been here for some years and we’re happy to be part of this community but obviously our hearts go out to the many lives lost and I hope this will create an opportunity for people to have a conversation.”

Other church pastors like Laura Pederson with St. Bonaventure Catholic Church stand with the Indigenous community, but believe in more constructive ways to reconcile.

“I don’t agree with what happened with residential schools, but I just feel like this is so unnecessary,” Pederson said.

“I just hope that this stops and I think the dialogue needs to be that we need to heal from this and understand what went on.”

FAMILY MEMBER OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL SURVIVOR RESPONDS

Michelle Robinson is the family member of multiple residential school survivors from the Providence Sacred Heart Indian Residential School in Yellowknife.

She learned first hand from her aunt, uncle, and granny who all attended the site, suffered years of discrimination and scars that lasted a lifetime.

Although the pain cuts deep in her heart, Robinson says churches should not be vandalized.

“I understand that anger, but it’s not healthy or constructive and we need these church records to be kept alive,” Robinson said.

“These churches are the crime scenes and if we burn them down or vandalize them, we lose the proof people need to see to understand the stories of missing children and unmarked burial sites.”

Robinson adds that these images of handprints are a true reflection of pain and her genuine hope is that politicians and community leaders will start to act in a positive constructive manner.

“There are a lot of people who are angry because our voices haven’t been heard for decades and it’s not a secret,” she said.

“Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because it’s a guideline of what to do in a constructive progressive way.”

GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS CONDEMN VIOLENCE

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded Friday morning to the acts of vandalism against churches across the country, sending his messages of support for Indigenous people but also condemning violence.

“It is fully understandable given the shameful history that we’re all becoming more and more aware of, and engaging ourselves to do better,” Trudeau said.

“But I can’t help but to think that burning down churches is actually depriving people who are in need of grieving and healing and mourning from places where they can actually grieve and reflect and look for support."

Trudeau called the vandalism ‘unacceptable and wrong,’ adding that Ottawa has put in place a security infrastructure program that partners with places of worship to be able to put in cameras and security systems to keep those institutions safe from violence.

“We shouldn’t be lashing out at buildings,” he said.

“We need to actually rebuild a path forward that reflects the terrible intergenerational trauma and present-day realities of suffering that we are collectively responsible for.”

Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also tweeted out the following statement Thursday afternoon.

"The vandalism of churches across Alberta is appalling," he tweeted. "This happened today at an African Evangelical Church in Calgary. The congregation is made up entirely of new Canadians, many of whom came here as refugees fleeing countries where churches are often vandalized and burned down.”

CALGARY POLICE INVESTIGATING HATE CRIMES

In total, 11 churches were vandalized over the course of the last two days according to the Calgary Police Service, which is investigating the acts of vandalism as hate crimes.

"Canada’s residential school system is a very dark part of our history that destroyed the lives of countless Indigenous families, communities and people," a police statement read. "The recent discovery of these graves further supports the tragic and heartbreaking stories that Indigenous people have been sharing for many decades."

 "Given the harm this chapter of our history has caused to Indigenous people in our community, it is understandable that emotions and tensions are running high. We must never forget that residential schools are part of our legacy as a country and we need to continue seeking the truth about what happened."

"The Calgary Police Service is committed to doing our part in this reconciliation effort and ensuring that the generational trauma of the residential school system is properly addressed in policing."

However, the police added that vandalism is illegal and creates further division, and that they were examining security camera footage to identify suspects.

The churches involved were:

·        St. Bonaventure Catholic Church at 1600 Acadia Dr. S.E.

·        St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church at 819 13 Ave. S.W.

·        St. Mary’s Cathedral at 219 18 Ave. S.W.

·        Sacred Heart Church and Columbarium at 1307 14 St. S.W.

·        Grace Presbyterian Church at 1009 15 Ave. S.W.

·        St. Luke’s Parish at 1566 Northmount Dr. N.W.

·        Holy Trinity Church at 1525 45 St. S.E.

·        St. Anthony’s Catholic Parish at 5340 4 St. S.W.

·        All Nations Full Gospel Church at 1403 8 Ave. S.E.

·        St. Joseph Catholic Church at 640 19 Ave. N.W.

·       Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at 794 6 St NE

Anyone with information about these incidents is asked to contact Calgary police at 403-266-1234. Anonymous tipsters can contact Calgary Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477, online or by using the P3 Tips app available at Apple or the Google Play Store.

For anyone struggling with their emotions around recent events, there are a number of agencies that can be contacted, including the following:

·        CPS Victim Assistance Response Team: 403-428-8398

·        Distress Centre Calgary (24/7): 403-266-HELP (4357)

·       Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society (Crisis Line): 403-531-1976

·        211 Alberta: Dial 211