MARISELA AMADOR THE EASTERN DOOR
“My initial reaction was dismay and concern that this is how the anger and hurt are being processed,” said community member Melanie Mayo, at the sight of Kahnawake’s defaced Catholic Church on the morning of Wednesday, July 28.
“I am the daughter of a residential school survivor. The effects from it are always present, but defacing a structure with racial and hateful slurs does nothing to change that.”
There were two vandalism incidents that occurred outside the St. Francis Xavier Mission Catholic Church throughout the night of Tuesday, July 27.
“The first one was just after 10 p.m., we received a call reporting windows on the church had been broken,” said Peacekeeper spokesperson Kyle Zachary.
Although there were no suspects on the scene when officers arrived, an aluminum baseball bat and another tool – possibly a wrench – were found on the ground. These are the presumed objects used to break the windows.
“At 2:23 this morning (July 28), we got a call that the church was being spray-painted by two youths,” recounted Zachary, adding that they were released to their parents.
As of right now, no charges have been filed against the two minors.
“In cases like this, we like to look at extrajudicial measures – it’s a form of community policing that we look at – but it’s up to the reporting persons too,” he continued.
The landmark building at the heart of the community has a peak that overlooks the entire territory.
LAURENCE BRISSON DUBREUIL THE EASTERN DOOR
However, on Wednesday, black and red spray paint plastered the front doors, gray brick exterior and cement path circling the church.
“Colonizer,” “those were kids,” “215,” and “burn the church” were among the graffiti that denounced the role played by the church in the residential school system.
This is a message that was lost by many Kahnawa’kehró:non outraged by the racist, homophobic and other obscene words that appeared on the facade.
When he arrived at the church grounds on Wednesday morning, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Ross Montour said he felt disgusted.
“It’s not about this building. This building is part of the history of this community,” he said. “They’re doing harm to their own people.”
The chief expressed that in addition to the vandalism hurting Kahnawa’kehró:non, a racial slur spray-painted appeared to specifically target a Black member of the church.
“He’s a colonized person too, and he too comes from a colonized people,” stated Montour, referring to Father Vincent Esprit.
The Eastern Door reached out to Father Esprit, but the receptionist of St. Francis Xavier
Mission said he is still too shaken from the incident to comment on the situation.
“If you want to pick an adversary, then pick the Canadian government that set up the residential school system,” said Montour. “Those are the people that need to be held accountable.”
While community member Timmy Norton continues to process his own feelings towards the institution, he recognized the effects recent burial discoveries have had on himself.
“The stories of survivors of the residential schools, while horrifying, have moved me so much and created a lot of anger in me as well,” expressed Norton. “The images and stories are devastating, and the church, as well as the Canadian government, are solely to blame.”
Regardless of his religious beliefs, Norton condemned the act of vandalism and emphasized a need to move forward.
“Whatever has happened to each individual in regards to the church, they must focus on their own healing. Doing anything negative to the church will not cure them or me,” he said.
The oftentimes overwhelming emotions stirred by conversations surrounding residential schools is a matter Mayo hopes the community will find a positive channel to collectively work through.
“I’m just one person trying to find a better way for my own family to try not to continue the generational trauma,” she said. “We need to talk about it, learn how to put into words what we are feeling, and find healthy outlets for our emotions.”
MCK Public Works employees began tackling cleaning the building around 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
Kahnawa’kehró:non, including chiefs and Longhouse members, were quick to rally and join the efforts.
“I have family that still go to church. I know other people who go too, and for them, it’s an attack on themselves,” said MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, who explained she participated as a community member rather than an official.
“It was important to show up and let the church-going community know that we stand in support with them,” she continued. “Some of them were very upset and crying. These are our elders – and our community elders. They are our people.”
By mid-afternoon, shattered windows were changed, and the finishing coat of bright red paint was applied onto the entrance doors.
With all traces of spray paint washed away, came a renewed sense of community support and solidarity.
“At the end of the day, we’re still all community members,” said the grand chief. “We care about what happens here because this is our family.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil is a multimedia journalist based in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal, Canada. She holds a BA in journalism, with a minor in law and society from Montreal's Concordia University.
Laurence began reporting with The Eastern Door in the fall of 2020, after completing a fellowship with the Institute for Investigative Journalism, a national investigative organization.
Among many things, Laurence is passionate about investigative reporting, human rights, and environmental issues.