Squamish First Nation Coun. Wilson Williams was at the ceremony when his nation unveiled the memorial for survivors and victims of the St. Paul’s Residential School.
The site of the former school is within Squamish territory on the North Shore of Vancouver. Seven years ago, the memorial was unveiled in ceremony on the school’s grounds where St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School operates today.
“I was recently elected at the time, council really supported concluding that project. It was a beautiful ceremony. It really holds a stronger connection to our community now, especially with the challenging times we are going through.”
On Tuesday morning, (Jan. 25), the Squamish First Nation discovered the memorial had been vandalized. An unknown person removed one of the arms of the memorial at the elbow, which had previously featured one of the figures with its arms raised in welcome.
“I was in disbelief,” Williams said. “It’s very distressing to have such a violent act occur to the memorial. It was heartbreaking to wake up that morning to get the news.”
Williams is hopeful that the upper arm piece will be returned. If the piece cannot be recovered, Squamish will work with the carver to create a new piece to restore the memorial.
“There are cultural and traditional processes we would respect in terms of how we approach that. It’s a sacred piece to our people and the work that was done on it was done in a good healthy spiritual mindset with nothing but good feelings, so that’s the kind of approach we would implement on our end.”
The vandalism came shortly after Williams Lake First Nation announced they discovered 93 burial sites on the ground so the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.
Squamish’s Integrated First Nations Police Unit is leading the investigation in collaboration with the North Shore RCMP and the West Vancouver Police.
The Nation has also reached out to St. Thomas Aquinas about the incident. Williams said the school distributed a one-page information sheet to staff and students about the history of the grounds and the meaning of the memorial.
Williams said council is mindful that the announcement from Williams Lake could be triggering for some. There is no known motive at this time, but Williams says the nation is keeping an open mind and an open heart to whoever was responsible for the vandalism.
“I go back to our teachings — asking people to have an open mind and an open heart — to understand our history that’s been unveiled to Canada in regards to the impact on residential schools and what really occurred.”