An outpouring of support is flooding into the offices of the Hupacasath First Nation after their welcome sign on the Alberni Highway was cut down with a chainsaw.
Police were called to the Alberni Highway in front of Alberni Toyota Saturday morning after passers-by noticed an individual or individuals vandalizing a large sign on the edge of the property.
The sign read “Hupacasath Welcomes You. The First Peoples of the Valley”.
“Someone used a chainsaw to cut it down,” RCMP Const. Erica Shiguere said.
Alberni Valley Crimestoppers is reporting that witnesses reported a white pickup truck with three occupants described as “native males with stuff over their faces so they can’t be recognized”.
Investigators continue to review evidence and the investigation is ongoing, Shiguere said.
No other property at Alberni Toyota was damaged, general manager Jim Pelk said.
Hupacasath officials are scratching their heads over why someone would make visitors feel unwelcome by cutting down a welcome sign.
“We were very disappointed that someone would destroy a beautiful piece of artwork like that,” Hupacasath Chief Councillor Steven Tatoosh said. “I hope this is not done out of hatred for aboriginal people.”
Tatoosh wouldn’t speculate who committed the vandalism or why, saying that the police investigation is still underway.
The sign was painted by local artist Brad Piatka and was erected last winter. It was part of an accommodation agreement the Hupacasath reached with Alberni Toyota after the facility expanded into lands Hupacasath claim as their own.
Tribal officials are meeting with Alberni Toyota management to discuss the incident, Tatoosh said.
The tribe is also considering offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of the persons responsible, he said.
The tribe’s office has been inundated with calls from non-aboriginal people encouraging the tribe to put the sign back up. “We’ve even been getting calls from people on the Lower Mainland who are offering donations to help rebuild it,” Tatoosh said.
Tatoosh said the whole community doesn’t deserve to be cast in a bad light because of the incident. “I still believe that Port Alberni is the place with a heart, not the place with a black heart.”