WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A councillor in the village of Murray Harbour, P.E.I., is being asked to step down after a sign on his property carried a message offensive to residential school survivors and other members of the Indigenous community.
The wording has now been removed from the sign, located on property owned by Murray Harbour Coun. John Robertson.
Photos taken before the message was taken down show that it called the detection of “mass graves” at the former sites of residential schools in the last few years a “hoax” and added: “Redeem Sir John A’s integrity.”
Since the confirmation of community knowledge of suspected unmarked graves in British Columbia, First Nations across Canada have located evidence of the remains of more than 2,300 children in suspected unmarked graves at or near former residential schools and Indian hospitals, according to a report from the independent special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves and burial sites associated with Indian Residential Schools released earlier this year.
Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould, who drove to Murray Harbour to see the sign himself, is one of several people asking Robertson to resign.
“It’s very triggering when something is suggestive or makes a statement that is inaccurate,” he said.
“I think we all, as a society, have a due diligence and responsibility to each other to make sure, you know, if you’re saying stuff, make sure there’s some merit and truth to it.”
Gould, the son of a residential school survivor, said it was a tough sign to read during a weekend dedicated to greater understanding across Canada, as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was observed.
He said people are entitled to their opinion, but as a councillor, Robertson is in a position of authority. Gould noted there are well-established facts on how John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, treated the Indigenous community.
“Sir John A. Macdonald, and the legislative practices that were to assimilate or just to eradicate my people based on genocidal practices by the federal government, that’s been substantiated in court litigation and been backed up by the federal government,” he said.
Municipal staff have accepted Gould’s offer to make an educational presentation on Indigenous history at the Oct. 11 council meeting.
CBC News reached Robertson by phone on Wednesday, but he did not provide a comment.
‘A stain on our community’
Terry White, the mayor of Murray Harbour, also said he felt Robertson should step down.
“It’s just a stain on our community and anybody that denies what happened needs to get their eyes opened, take the sign down and resign. He stepped way over the line and it’s going to be dealt with. There’s going to be no more signs in the harbour.”
Anne Harnesk, the chief administrative officer of the village, said she has gotten several emails and calls about the sign.
A third party could be called in to investigate under the terms of the community’s code of conduct for councillors, Harnesk said.
“They allow us to impose a suspension, a fine of up to $500. We can ask him to apologize and there’s assorted other things as appropriate. So we would be looking at those.”
Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential school and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.