As the seventh day of riots raged in the U.S. over the police killing of African American man George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, a disturbing incident took place in residential neighborhoods on the Tseshaht reserve.
According to Tseshaht member, Nasimius (Ed Ross), his neighbors witnessed an act of racism as they were enjoying family time together in their yard in the early morning hours of June 2.
Nasimius said at about 1:15 to 1:45 a.m. he heard the sounds of loud voices. His neighbor witnessed an incident and managed to video record it, which was then posted to social media. The truck drove through a main road near Haahuupayuk School.
In the video, a white truck emerges from the darkness and can be seen passing under the streetlights. People inside the truck are making the stereo-typical Native Indian war whoop sounds and shouting racial slurs, according to witnesses.
Nasimius was shaken by the incident.
“All I can really say is I heard it all going down while I was in my house very clearly; they were doing stereotype Indian calls and racial and derogatory slurs – it was loud,” he said.
He went on to say that his neighbor who shot the video was outside with her partner and her kids.
“They were having a camp-out in the back of their truck so those young girls witnessed it too,” Nasimius said.
The incident stirred up old feelings of being the target of racial attacks in his youth. As a young teenager Nasimius recalls being chased down on his skateboard and being called hurtful things in racially motivated attacks.
“All I will say is that these boys are lucky they never got blocked in; these actions triggered me to a person I don’t like and could very well have escalated into something worse,” he added.
Elected Chief Cynthia Dick shared the video on social media.
“Just when you hope that things aren’t as bad as they may seem everywhere (else) and you see a glimpse of hope. This truck was driving around the reserves tonight in small town Port Alberni yelling racial slurs and making the stereotypical ‘Indian calls’...someone has to recognize this vehicle. This is not okay,” she wrote.
Tseshaht members have met with the RCMP and reported the incident. The community has plans to step up surveillance on the reserve.
The RCMP hadn’t returned calls to Ha-Shilth-Sa by press time.
Nasimius later apologized to the public for his angry post, saying he was triggered by the frightening incident.
Besides bringing him back to a traumatic time, it made him worry for the safety of his young daughters.
“My girls, they weren’t home but I thought wtf, are my girls – our kids going to experience this still?” he asked on social media.
“It made me upset that they will have to deal with this still,” said Nasimius.
“The terrible acts of racism that played out in our community last night are an upsetting wakeup call that, while it's easy to look at what is happening in the US as being far away, racism and hate still exists in our own back yard,” said MP Gord Johns in a written statement.
In a joint statement issued by the Tseshaht First Nation and the City of Port Alberni, Elected Chief Cynthia Dick thanked those that have extended their support.
“While this incident is upsetting, we are determined to emerge stronger and to use this as an opportunity to foster unity and teach our children what it takes to build a happy, healthy community that respects diversity and celebrates individuality,” she stated.
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions had this to say, “The behavior displayed during this incident is in no way reflective of our community values. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Tseshaht and all First Nations people and will not tolerate racism in our community.”
“Today, I stand with the Nuu-chah-nulth people and all those in our community who condemn the racist behaviour of those who trespassed on Tseshaht land last evening to taunt and spew hatred towards its people for no other reason than they are different than them,” said Johns. “We will not be whole as a community until we have eradicated racism in all its forms and truly celebrate our differences as members of the human family.”
The Tseshaht people plan to meet to talk about how they will prevent future attacks.
“I will say I can’t control these people’s actions, but it triggers our nation to take action to love and protect our people and we will be talking about how we can do that in a peaceful way tonight…with our whit waak and our wolves,” shared Nasimius.
Dick stated that, as leaders in the Alberni Valley, they will do everything in their power to assist RCMP in finding these individuals so they may be held accountable for their actions.
If you have any information on the incident or want to report other hate crimes that have occurred in the Alberni Valley, please contact Port Alberni RCMP at 250-723-2424.