As students began to arrive at several public schools in Vernon B.C. on Sept. 30, 2020, they were met with hundreds of small pieces of paper and leaflets scattered across sidewalks, streets and in parking lots. The papers link back to websites supporting white supremacy.
This was particularly jarring to Indigenous parents, as Sept. 30 was Orange Shirt Day, a day for people to come together to recognize the impact of the residential school system on Indigenous kids.
“I fear for my babies future. I am scared,” says Devyn Louis, a mother of two from the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) whose five year old attends a school in her community.
Since Sept. 30, notes have continued to appear near schools.
“We as humans need to understand that inflicting this kind of pain on each other helps no one,” says Louis.
OKIB lies just west of Vernon, most of the children from the First Nations community attend the public schools where the notes are being left. OKIB Chief Byron Louis does not condone these events.
“We condemn any form of hate literature and hateful words,” says Chief Louis. “I don’t believe for a moment that these hateful views are shared by the majority of the people of Vernon. Still, people on the fringe can do a lot of damage, and they don’t just hurt me, they hurt everyone with their attitudes.”
Many parents are turning to Facebook community forums, calling for help in finding the perpetrators.
“I am petrified of what the world will come to be, and as a mother I beg you to please stop, if you don’t know what it’s like living in fear, please stop,” says Louis.
The RCMP shared in a press release on Oct. 1, 2020 that the “leaflets” were, “turned in to police who examined the content and found it is linked to a specific, extreme ideology.”
They say if anyone has information that may assist investigators they should call the Vernon North Okanagan RCMP.
Many public officials also condemned the incident.
“It is very disturbing that white supremacist website information was distributed on the streets around some of our schools,” writes Joe Rogers, the Superintendent of the School District 22 in an email with IndigiNews.
“There is no place for racism, discrimination or intolerance in B.C. – in our schools or anywhere else,” shared the Senior Public Affairs Officer for the Ministry of Educationl, Craig Sorochan in an email statement.
Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming said in a statement: “I am disheartened and deeply sorry about the events that took place in our community yesterday, with the distribution of hundreds of notes linked to racist propaganda and a white supremacist website.”
Incident raises questions about anti-racism policy
While the Vernon Mayor condemns the ongoing incidents, he and city officials are receiving backlash online regarding the city not passing an Anti-Racial Discrimination and Anti-Racism Policy.
“Put your money where your mouth is Mayor and Councillors. Pass the anti racism policy drafted by your lawyers. Lead by example,” writes one person on the Vernon community Facebook forum.
In July 2020, the mayor and two councillors voted in favour of passing the policy but it failed to be approved by the majority. The policy would have created a framework that would have allowed for more programming and training to be offered within the city.
Despite the anti-racism policy not being approved, the mayor continues to condemn the incidents.
“We must be willing to confront discrimination, hate and racism in all its forms. I encourage you to speak with your children and loved ones about these things so we can learn from our past,” Cumming said in the news release on Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, the Province of B.C. has recently introduced a Community Roundtable on Anti-Racism that will include voices from First Nations leadership and student advisory committees.
“The development of an anti-racism action plan and to strengthen the K–12 curriculum, ensuring the culture, beliefs and ancestry of all students and staff are accepted, celebrated and understood,” the government’s website states.
As her kids continue to head off to school, Louis hopes that this creates an opportunity for communities to come together and learn more about each other.
“For us to heal we pray that you take the time to understand… many of my non-Indigenous friends have reached out to gain a better understanding.” she says.
“This step will help us heal.”
Chief Louis shares a similar sentiment.
“We must continue to learn to love our neighbours and to live in peace because history has proven this to be the only way forward,” he says.