Warning: this story contains details some may find distressing.
First Nations organizations are speaking out after a sign displaying a racist message was hung from a bridge near the Muskoday First Nation, 21 kilometres southeast of Prince Albert, Sask., earlier this week.
The cardboard sign said “white lives matter too,” in larger lettering. Below, in smaller lettering, it said “who else is going to pay taxes so you can sit on your a–?”
Muskoday Chief Ava Bear said multiple community members reported seeing a man hang the “disturbing” sign on the bridge over the South Saskatchewan River near Muskoday on Wednesday morning.
She said it was a blatantly racist action.
“It’s totally uncalled for. It’s totally unacceptable. I’m just appalled,” she said.
A pair of shoes were hung with the sign, a gesture Bear described as a mockery of symbolism used to represent the lives lost in Canada’s residential school system.
“It’s really evident that ignorance plays a key role in the situation that happened here today,” Bear said.
“To me, it’s disgusting that this individual, this male, would hang these shoes.”
Bear disputed misconceptions the sign portrayed. She said the “white lives matter” message likely stemmed from the recent attention on discoveries of unmarked or undocumented gravesites at residential school grounds.
She said the discovery of those bodies doesn’t changed the fact that all lives are important.
Bear said the second misconception the sign portrayed was that First Nations people don’t pay taxes.
She said people with that kind of thinking are “living in the dark ages” and fail to acknowledge the First Nations taxpayers who contribute to the province and to the country.
Bear said there have been an array of emotions in the community due to the sign, from feelings of hurt and sadness, to her own initial anger.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council, of which Muskoday First Nation is a member, also commented on the sign Wednesday afternoon.
Tribal Chief Mark Arcand reiterated Bear’s comments and said the incident was unacceptable.
Arcand said the hanging of the sign and shoes needs to be addressed, calling it a sign of racism and hatred toward First Nations people.
“Today is July 14, 2021, and this is still happening to our First Nations,” Arcand said.
“People are driving through our communities and leaving these kinds of signs to trigger people, to add more trauma. It’s unacceptable. The general public has to be aware of this.”
Arcand said the public would be looking to the Saskatoon Tribal Council to support the Muskoday First Nation’s efforts in educating the individual who hung the sign.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents Saskatchewan’s First Nations, also issued a statement about the incident Wednesday.
In it, Chief Bobby Cameron said the actions amounted to a hate crime and called on the RCMP to investigate and lay charges.
“These children [found on residential school grounds] did not have a voice and now that they’re being found, they’re being made fun of by ignorant racists and we must all stand up against hate crimes in Saskatchewan,” Cameron said.
“We have filed an official complaint with the RCMP and will not rest until these acts end in this province.”
A statement from Saskatchewan RCMP said the Prince Albert detachment received a complaint about the sign just after noon CST on Wednesday.
The statement said the investigation was still in its early stages and asked anyone with information about who hung the sign to contact the Prince Albert RCMP detachment.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.