Community reacts to racist graffiti at local school

By Lois Ann Dort    

UPPER BIG TRACADIE – Last week racist graffiti was found on and around the Antigonish East Education Centre in Monastery. Concerned citizens from nearby African Nova Scotian communities and the Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation held a meeting on Saturday, March 10 in Upper Big Tracadie to discuss the response by the community, the Strait Regional School Board and the RCMP.

Those in attendance — including Antigonish County Councillor Gary Mattie and SRSB Coordinator of Race Relations, Cross Cultural Understanding and Human Rights Kathy Rhodes, discussed the events and next steps for community stakeholders.

Mary Desmond, a member of the African Nova Scotia community from Upper Big Tracadie, organized the meeting and spoke to The Journal about why the meeting had been convened. “A lot of the community members had concerns so I thought it would be a great opportunity to give them a platform to have their voices heard. They wanted to know why they didn't have an opportunity to respond because some of the graffiti had an effect on the African Nova Scotian communities.

“We weren't contacted on the day of the event,” said Desmond, noting she was contacted two days after the graffiti was discovered and asked to attend a school assembly to say a prayer as an elder from the African Nova Scotian community.

When asked what was accomplished at the meeting, she said, “We now know where the school board stands...and we were able to come together with the First Nations community to come up with a strategy that we can present to the school board, so that we can be involved in the process. These are our children too.”

James Desmond, representing the Upper Big Tracadie and Lincolnville Education Committee, said of the meeting, “It was good to get people out from the surrounding area...to talk about the effects of the graffiti on the school and how it impacted their communities and how it was dealt with. There's a lot of things we need to look at and address moving forward. The consensus is, that the manner that this was dealt with wasn't proper.

“If they saw it as a crisis,” he said of the school's reaction to the graffiti, “they would have dealt with it in a better manner. The same with the response from the local RCMP detachment. That they don't show up until hours later, doesn't make sense to me, when they don't know what the incident is all about...There's breaks in the system that need to be addressed.”

More meetings are scheduled for this week which are expected to result in a draft letter to the school board, strategy planning and collaboration with First Nations to address the need for the creation of a crisis team to respond to such incidents of racism moving forward.

As a result of the RCMP investigation into the incident, and other graffiti investigations in the Town of Antigonish, Antigonish District RCMP have arrested a 17-year-old male. He has been charged with Public Incitement of Hatred and four counts of Mischief. He has been released on conditions and will appear in Antigonish Youth Court at a later date.