Chain link fences with razor wire, trail cams, and more patrols are being considered by Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) council as a way to protect sacred sites from further vandalism.
On Wednesday OIB Chief Clarence Louie voiced his disapproval of a recent act of vandalism which left racist slurs and swear words on pictographs of both historical and spiritual significance to the Okanagan Nation.
An OIB member discovered the vandalism last weekend, and news of the crime has has since rapidly spread.
Louie said his reaction to the crime, one of “ongoing, systemic racism,” was one that the vandals would likely have wanted.
“They (vandals) want people to get upset, and angry, and saddened… That’s the reaction racists want, isn’t it? I think that’s what they want. I’m not a psychologist but why do people go around, they hide, they don’t do it in public. They go in and damage people’s property. Why do they do that? Because they want a reaction, I assume,” said Louie.
Significance of the pictographs
Pictographs and rock art, Louie explained, can be found throughout the Okanagan and tribal territory in the U.S. and Canada.
Historically, pictographs have been used as a way to convey a message or an idea over countless centuries.
“They’re of cultural significance, spiritual significance, historical significance, they’re not normal — I guess some people call them art. Some of the imagery there is not about art, it’s about spirituality,” said Louie.
“Of course no one knows who the artist was, no one knows when they were painted, but they’re significant. Some images you can guess what they are, but some are abstract, some are spiritual.”
Repairing the damage
Since discovering the graffiti, OIB Chief and Council has been planning ways to move forward and further protect these sacred areas.
Recently Louie has spoken with experts in B.C. and Alberta to specialize in removing vandalism from rocks. Some say there are products that may be able to remove the paint.
Most of the swear words, Louie explained, were not on the pictographs themselves, and this will be easier to deal with. However paint put directly on the rock paintings will be more of an issue.
The chief is hopeful they will be able to restore the paintings to their original state.
“I’m glad to hear; the person I talked to on the phone yesterday from Alberta said there is stuff that can get paint off of paint, and still leave the original rock painting there,” he said.
Figuring out who might have done this is extremely hard without witnesses, explained Louie. He added it’s hard to charge someone if they don’t confess to their crimes.
Louie said this isn’t the first time someone has ripped off, stolen from, or vandalized their land.
“Whenever this has happened before, again there’s been no witnesses, there’s not much of an investigation the cops can do because who they talk to? All that’s left behind is the swear words.
Rather than ‘justice’, a term the chief called ‘soft’ and non-specific, Louie proposed a five-year prison sentence for the those responsible.
“I was asked, well do you want justice to whoever did this? I said no, I don’t want justice to whoever did this criminal activity, I want them locked up in jail for at least five years,” said Louie.
He said he is baffled by how many trespass on their reserves. Even as Louie and others were leaving the historical site on the weekend, they noticed several cyclists biking through their reserve.
The individual responsible, Louie explained, broke several laws, beginning when they trespassed on OIB land, passing by several ‘no trespassing’ signs.
“I’m sure every res (reservation) has this problem, where non-natives think Indian reserves are public land and they can just drive anywhere they want… our reserve roads are not public roads, they’re like somebody’s private driveway, it’s just that they’re a lot longer, that’s the only difference,” said Louie.
Louie said it’s a mindset within the public that needs to change. He said their signs which read ‘private property’ and ‘no trespassing’ should garner just as much respect and significance as they do anywhere else.
“That’s (vandalism) just part of ongoing racism, systemic racism that people don’t even notice. It’s been there so long.”