Indigenous Chief and Mayor Demand Resignation Over Councillor’s Residential School Denial Sign

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In a Prince Edward Island community, there is mounting tension between local government and the Indigenous community as both the presiding First Nation Chief, Roderick Gould Jr. of the Abegweit First Nation, and Mayor Terry White of Murray Harbour, unite in an unprecedented call for the resignation of a local councillor. The reason for their joint demand lies in a divisive sign posted on the property of Councillor John Roberston, a large display board expressing denial of the existence of residential school mass graves.

The contentious message on the sign, “Truth: mass grave hoax” and “Reconciliation: Redeem Sir John A.’s integrity,” sparked outrage and considered profoundly hurtful to descendants of the residential school survivors. Chief Gould Jr., himself a direct descendant of a residential school survivor, voiced his disappointment in a strongly-worded letter to the council, urging for Robertson’s resignation. His letter highlights the potential harm from misinformation spread by individuals in power, greatly impeding the progress of reconciliation and continuing to induce friction between the Indigenous community and other residents.

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“It’s a hate sign. Period,” Mayor White declared in an interview Thursday, sharing his appalled reaction towards the hostile message displayed on Robertson’s sign. White mentioned his threats of manually taking down the sign himself, a clear indication of his deeply-felt disapproval.

White paid a visit to Roberston on Friday, asking him to pull down the sign. Robertson, however, refused, allegedly asserting his legal rights. Robertson could not be reached for further comments on Thursday. The sign did, however, come down around the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the following day.

The Mayor emphatically dismissed the stance reflected through Robertson’s sign as an embarrassment to the village. It negates the council and community view, downplaying and denying the atrocities perpetrated under Canada’s residential school system. White drew a parallel between denying these tragic events to ignoring the Holocaust, urging for acknowledgment of the historial abuses.

The discovery of the potential remains of about 215 children in May 2021 by the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation holds testament to the horrifying experiences of residential schools. The residential school system, strategized by Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, inflicted horrific violence and forceful assimilation policies on Indigenous people.

Although Mayor White does not have the power to remove Robertson from council directly, he has hinted at a potential suspension and investigation if Robertson does not resign voluntarily. As part of the ongoing efforts for reconciliation, Chief Gould has extended an offer to participate in a council meeting to enlighten them on the distressing history of residential schools, a gesture promptly accepted by the council.