Port Alberni leaders condemn racist act against First Nations

Leaders from Port Alberni and Tseshaht First Nation have come together to show the two communities are united in condemning a racist incident caught on video on the nation’s territory.

A video shot early Tuesday shows a white pickup driving through Tseshaht First Nation while occupants in the vehicle make what sound like whooping cries.

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Tseshaht councillor Hugh Braker, who was one of many who witnessed the incident, said he also heard racial slurs and shouts of “We hate Indians.”

The original video had been viewed on Facebook more than 14,000 times by Wednesday afternoon.

Braker said the action was clearly intended to draw attention, because the truck circled the residential subdivision multiple times, long enough to draw out residents, some of whom grabbed phones to record the taunts.

Braker lives nearby and came out after receiving a phone call about the truck. He said the incident reminded him of his youth in the 1960s and 1970s, when he experienced overt racism more frequently.

“I was hoping those days were all over, but apparently they’re not. It all came rushing back.”

Braker said the timing made him particularly angry — set against the backdrop of widespread protests in the U.S. after the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in police custody after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“At a time in this world when tensions are high, in not just the COVID crisis but what’s happening in America, I thought [it] would have brought to everyone’s mind the evils of racism, but apparently it’s fallen on some deaf ears.”

Braker said he is particularly worried about the impact on children in the area, some of whom were camping in their front yards and awake at the time. “I really worry about the kids hearing that.”

In a video posted to the Tseshaht First Nation’s Facebook page, Tseshaht elected chief councillor Cynthia Dick said she and Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions decided to issue a joint statement to show “that we are stronger when we are together.”

Dick said Tseshaht residents and broader community members are upset by the video, which has been reported to the Port Alberni RCMP.

Police are confident they can identify the owner of the truck and that the incident will be addressed immediately, she said.

Minions called the video “heartbreaking” to watch.

“It’s incredibly disappointing that we have to be here today for this reason, but we know that these types of things are happening in the community and we want to send a strong message that this is not acceptable behaviour,” she said.

Dick said she was thankful that no one was hurt. “It could have been worse.”

She also asked anyone who locates the vehicle to avoid retaliating and instead report the truck to the RCMP.

Port Alberni RCMP did not respond to requests for comment.

Community members gathered Tuesday evening to help support each other and to extend forgiveness to those in the pickup for their actions.

Braker expressed gratitude to leaders such as Minions, MP Gord Johns and local RCMP officers who attended.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said local leaders need to use their voices to condemn racism and work together to find solutions. “Racism is going to continue as long as people aren’t speaking out against it,” she said. “Everybody has to be taking responsibility.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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