For Tara Aleck (Nyce), last month’s horrific discovery of the remains of 215 children at a Kamloops residential school hit especially close to home.
A 43-year-old Ts'kw'waylaxw First Nations woman, Aleck’s parents were both survivors of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and with last year’s death of her father still fresh in her mind, she decided to hold a small, intimate vigil in front of her Pemberton home on May 31.
With an abalone shell, sage for smudging, and a small, stuffed teddy bear by her side, Aleck was in deep prayer when she said she was interrupted by the sounds of “hysterical laughter” coming from a black truck passing by. Then, after dropping off a passenger a few doors down, Aleck said the driver slowly reversed the truck, stopping in front of her home, where the occupants continued laughing, “taunting me and calling me a Squaw, calling me a chug.”
“It was so degrading,” she added. “I’m still dumbfounded by it.”
Aleck later managed to snap photos of the truck, which was emblazoned with the logo for Pemberton-based Eduardo’s Carpentry, and provided them to police. Dissatisfied with the response from the company’s owner, who was driving the truck at the time but did not make the racist comments, Aleck made an official report to police on June 3.
Aleck said the investigating officer promised to stop by to take her testimony and photos of the vigil, but never did. Aleck even enlisted the help of the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, which contacted the RCMP on her behalf to push the investigation forward. Although the RCMP told Pique “multiple attempts” were made to reach Aleck, she said she never received a phone call, text or message from police and no officer ever visited her home.
“This is why our women go missing. You guys don’t care,” Aleck said, highlighting the reluctance she had to even report the incident given the historical mistrust between so many Indigenous communities and the RCMP.
“I was going to be quiet about it. I ended up posting about it and my family was like, ‘You need to speak up,’” she added. “I really just wanted to be given the time of day and I felt like I wasn’t.”
In a prepared statement, Sea to Sky RCMP Insp. Robert Dykstra confirmed that, “regretfully, the file was concluded without obtaining a statement from the complainant, however, the two suspects were visited by the attending officer.”
After learning of the incident through social media, police said both Dykstra and acting Whistler-Pemberton zone commander Sgt. Sascha Banks contacted Aleck and committed to a full review of the investigation and complaint itself. Aleck said she is pursuing criminal charges.
"We are grateful that she conveyed her concerns to us," Dykstra continued in the statement. "We shared our concerns with her about the way the file was handled and we assured her that a complete review of the file will occur and will be shared with the complainant to discuss next steps.”
The 24-year-old owner of Eduardo’s Carpentry, who refused to provide his full name, conceded to Pique that his employee’s racist remarks were out of line, but he feels the whole situation has been blown out of proportion on social media.
“My employee was the one who said it, and the thing I don’t find right is I’m the one that’s being targeted,” he said, claiming that he and his family have been targeted on social media and in the community since news of the incident emerged.
Eduardo, who said he is of Chilean and Indigenous descent and has family members who also survived the Kamloops Indian Residential School, disagreed with some of Aleck’s telling of the situation. He claimed that Aleck was in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, while holding her vigil, not on her porch; that his employees weren’t laughing at her vigil, but rather “a funny line from a song” playing in the truck as they drove by; and that he didn’t reverse and stop the truck to further confront Aleck, but to exit the neighbourhood.
Aleck said numerous attempts were made to resolve the situation with Eduardo before getting police involved, but she was frustrated with his lack of personal accountability. For his part, Eduardo said he docked his employee’s pay and has placed him on suspension since the incident took place. He said he’s unsure if further disciplinary action will be taken.
“If I need him back, I’m going to have to bring him back,” Eduardo said. “I tried looking for guys but it’s extremely difficult right now, especially with COVID. I’m not trying to use it as an excuse or anything, it’s just the truth.”
Never expecting the situation to turn into what it did, Aleck said she is happy she spoke up, as she knows it’s what her father, double hereditary chief and Indigenous educator Fred Alec*, would have wanted.
“My dad just passed away in September and this was a dream of his. He wanted to have acknowledgement of what happened to us,” she said.
“If I have this platform to create ripples of change in the water, then I'm going to use it."
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed Fred Alec's first name as Francis.