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Racist Catcalls Shatter a Quiet Moment to Honour Residential School Survivors

The RCMP closed the file on the Pemberton case without talking to Tara Aleck, who endured racist slurs as she prepared a memorial for her parents.

Jen St. Denis 8 Jun

Jen St. Denis is The Tyee’s Downtown Eastside reporter. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

On the evening of May 31, Tara Aleck was preparing to honour the memory of her mother and father, both survivors of Kamloops Indian Residential School, with a candle and burning sage on the porch of her home in Pemberton, B.C.

But as she started to pray, she heard laughter from men driving by in a black pickup truck. Then one of the men shouted racist names at her, calling her a “squaw” and a “chug.”

“It was just so dishonouring, and the attack was just, for me, another reason why us Indigenous people need to still keep standing up for ourselves and fight through the systemic racism,” Aleck said. “It needs to be addressed in a better manner — this needs to stop.”

The discovery of the bodies of 215 children in unmarked graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School opened up deep wounds for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people and forced non-Indigenous Canadians to face the country’s racist colonial policies and the full horror of residential schools.

The discovery was announced by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation on May 27, and Aleck, a member of the Ts'kw'aylaxw First Nation, was taking part in a vigil meant to honour the memory of the lost children by placing a teddy bear on her porch.

Aleck said she was so shocked by the racist incident that she didn’t tell anyone at first. But the next morning she started to talk about it with family and friends, who urged her to speak out about what had happened. She filed a complaint with the RCMP the morning of June 3.

She had also taken photos of the black truck as it passed her house again, capturing a business logo, Eduardo’s Carpentry, emblazoned on the side of the passenger door. She provided them to the RCMP.

Aleck says she’s disappointed by the response of both the owner of Eduardo’s Carpentry, who was driving the truck at the time of the incident but did not make the comments, and the RCMP officer who spoke with the business owner, but not with her, before closing the file on the incident.

The RCMP says an officer responded to Aleck’s complaint on June 3.

In a release, Insp. Robert Dykstra, the officer in charge of the Sea to Sky detachments, and Sgt. Sascha Banks, the acting zone commander for the Whistler and Pemberton RCMP detachments, say they are concerned with how the case was handled.

“Regretfully, the file was concluded without obtaining a statement from the complainant, however, the two suspects were visited by the attending officer,” said Dykstra. Dykstra said RCMP officers have been in touch with Aleck and will start a review of the file.

Eduardo Hudson, the owner of Eduardo’s Carpentry, said he’s attempted to make amends with Aleck and the incident has been blown out of proportion on social media.

In an interview with The Tyee, Hudson confirmed he was driving the truck when his employee made the comments. He said he’s now docked his employee’s pay.

“He may not be returning to work now because of this,” Hudson said. “He’s even willing to apologize.”

Hudson said he is Indigenous and also has family members who are survivors of Kamloops Indian Residential School, and social media comments that have implied he is a “redneck” were not fair. He said his own mental health has suffered because of the attention the incident has gotten on social media.

Aleck said she attempted to resolve the situation with Hudson before going to the RCMP, but she was frustrated that he wasn’t taking accountability for his own actions.

She said she’s heard racist comments about Indigenous people in Pemberton for years, usually focusing on stereotypes around alcohol use, being on welfare and being dirty. Aleck recalled hearing those types of comments as far back as high school.

She said her father endured terrible abuse at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and was sometimes beaten for stealing food for the younger children. Cost-cutting at residential schools meant children routinely went hungry, according to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Aleck said her dad later worked as a counsellor for Indigenous students in the public school system, and was a Hereditary Chief.

“My dad was an Indigenous leader, and he worked hard for his money. He had four kids, one adopted, who is my cousin, and he clothed us all really nicely,” Aleck said.

“And this white girl would say, you’re a welfare Indian, you have no money, you wear the same clothes, you’re dirty. They’d call us chugs and squaw as well, you name it.”  [Tyee]

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