It was a message of hope defaced by one of hate.
Officials in North Battleford Sask. are condemning an act of what appears to be racist vandalism, after the letters “KKK” were spray painted on billboard promoting Indigenous rights.
Designed by Mary Culbertson following an artists’ workshop about reconciliation hosted by Emily Carr University of Art and Design associate professor Sandra Semchuk, the idea behind the billboard was created at the city’s Chapel Gallery this summer.
The billboard, based on a story Culbertson was told by friend and business partner Wes George when he attended the 2004 discussions on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva Switzerland, was then placed on the east side of North Battleford’s 100 Street.
Artist hoped billboard sparked discussion
Depicting an Indigenous elder holding an eagle feather, the billboard reads, “When your people first came over here across the water, we allowed you self-determination. All we ask is for that in return.”
Then, around Oct. 21, the letters ‘KKK’ were spray painted in black appeared on the billboard. They were removed a few days later.
Culbertson a 39-year-old woman from the Saulteaux Keeseekoose First Nation, who holds a juris doctor of law is now working to become a lawyer with a focus on indigenous rights.
She said she was saddened by the act of vandalism, but not surprised.
“I was waiting for something to happen,” she said.
“Growing up a native person in the prairies and from what I’ve encountered in my life, it’s expected,” she said. “That somebody is going to say something about your rights, when you try and assert them and when you want to educate people about them.”
She explained she wanted the billboard to start a dialogue about reconciliation for both sides of the community, noting she feels the historical trauma and abuses experienced by Aboriginal peoples have caused them to lose their identity.
“We’ve lost our identity and I wanted them to have pride in their identity and who they were by seeing this,” she said. “And I wanted the non-indigenous people to realize that statement and what it meant.”
City calls vandalism cowardly
A statement from the City of North Battleford referred to the act as “cheap and cowardly” and Mayor Ian Hamilton said he was shocked when he learned of the incident.
“I’m not positive that anybody targeted this particular billboard for the message that it was portraying,” he said, noting another billboard was vandalized in a similar fashion.
“But having said that, absolutely if it was, it’s reprehensible and our city takes great umbrage with what that message sends to our Aboriginal community,” he said. “Because we have a very, very strong presence of urban Aboriginals and as well, we’re the hub of eight first nations in our immediate vicinity.”
“We value the contributions and the heritage and the diversity that Aboriginal communities provide to our community,” he said.
Sgt. Neil Tremblay, with the North Battleford RCMP said officers opened a file surrounding the instance of vandalism after an inquiry by Metro, but said the graffiti had gone unreported, noting instances of hateful vandalism are uncommon.
“This is fairly unique,” he said
“There are times when you’re going to get some vulgar and or insulting words, that may have happened in the past, but I’ve never heard of this particular symbol, at least in the recent past.”
North Battleford is located roughly 140 km north west of Saskatoon.