Two Brandon churches and several vehicles were vandalized with black spray paint over the weekend in acts clerics believe are tied to residential schools.
St. Matthew’s Anglican Cathedral, First Presbyterian Church and the vehicles were tagged with the words, "God is dead" and "we were children."
"All things considered in the big scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse than what we experienced, but also not really that surprising because I know there’s a lot of anger out there and some of it is going to be directed at churches," St. Matthew's Dean Don Bernhardt told the Brandon Sun.
"This is sort of a potential outcome of that anger, so I wouldn’t say I was overly surprised."
Multiple churches in Western Canada have been been burned and vandalized during the past month following the discovery of more than 1,500 Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools.
Various religious organizations partnered with the federal government to run the schools, established to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into white society, beginning immediately after Confederation. The last school closed in 1996.
While Bernhardt doesn’t condone the vandalism in Brandon and elsewhere, he says he understands the underlying anger in the country's ongoing reckoning with the horrors of the residential-school system.
"It’s a justifiable anger," he said. "The powers that be, the churches and the government, were not listening the way our Indigenous brothers and sisters should be listening. Here in the Anglican Church of Canada, we’ve been working alongside First Nations folks, we apologized for our role in the residential schools in the '90s, so we’ve been working for four decades on reconciliation.
"Having said that, when something like this is all of a sudden on First Nations people’s minds — and I’ll be honest, First Nations folks have known these graves existed for decades, this is not news for them, it was news for everybody else — I think that’s a part of the anger. ‘You weren’t listening to us when you said that’s how bad things were.’"
Bernhardt said he will begin reaching out to local elders and people the local church hasn’t spoken with before to see what its role in reconciliation should be.
"Part of our job in the church is to listen to our Indigenous brothers and sisters and find out what they think we should be doing," he said. "It’s really easy for us to say we know the answers. Well, that’s what led to the Indian residential schools in the first place is the settler folks saying, ‘No, we know what we need to do, we know what you need to do and how you should do it.’
"Those sorts of failed experiments are over and now the time is to say, ‘How can we help you and walk alongside you and not put conditions on it?’ and not say, ‘We’ll only do it if it’s done the way we like it.’"
The Sun was unable to reach any representatives from First Presbyterian Church Monday, but Rev. Laura Hargrove commented on the situation in a public Facebook group for members of the church.
"Damage to property is distressing & naturally, people are upset," Hargrove wrote. "But we must recognize the pain and anger of survivors of the Indian residential school system. It is possible that the damage to our neighbourhood is an expression of this pain.
"The Presbyterian Church in Canada has publicly repented of its involvement in the residential school system. But while we apologized as a denomination for our involvement in such a damaging system, there are clearly many more steps to be taken on the road to healing and reconciliation.
"Please pray for our indigenous brothers and sisters, who are our neighbours, as they struggle with grief and frustration. Pray for those of us who are Settlers as well that we will recognize the reality of our shared history and the need to address it."
The vandalism was first reported early Sunday, Brandon Police Service Sgt. Kirby Sararas said, adding no arrests have been made.