UPDATE: 4:35 p.m.
The defacement of a mural in Vernon honouring the Okanagan Nation has been labeled “vile and hateful” by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, a human rights organization aimed at countering racism and anti-semitism.
The mural on the outside of AJ's Pets & Things on 31st Avenue has been marred by a number of black markings, including a swastika and a Hitler-type moustache drawn on the face of an indigenous woman.
“Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center strongly condemns vile and hateful graffiti of this nature. The usage of Nazi imagery is racist and antisemitic in nature and reminds us all of the atrocities committed by the German Nazis and their accomplices in the Holocaust,” said Avi Benlolo, the centre's president. “We deplore hateful rhetoric and messaging and call for compassion, tolerance and friendship amongst all Canadians.”
Well-known mural artist Michelle Loughery worked with a number of others, including Sheldon Louis, an established artist and member of the Okanagan Nation, on the Syilx mural project in 2001.
“It's quite shocking to me when I see a swastika on any mural,” said Loughery. “It was on the woman's face....It is a very disrespectful act to our First Nations people. It's terrible.”
Louis, who posted photos of the damaged mural on Facebook, refused to call the defacement a racist act.
“At this time, I really can't comment on the individual or individuals intent,” said Louis. “I see it as a lack of understanding and a lack of respect towards arts and culture in the community.”
"It's hard for any First Nations person to face that sort of thing," Louis admitted. "We definitely have a history of facing those sorts of behaviours."
But the artist added that “at this point in my life, it's not about anger but what we can do to educate.”
UPDATE: 9:15 a.m.
A graffiti removal company that has worked on other murals damaged by vandals has been hired by the Downtown Vernon Association to remove the graffiti on the mural, Hailey Rilkoff, DVA spokesperson.
"The DVA has also been in contact with Michelle Loughry to coordinate the repairs to the mural once the graffiti has been removed," said Rilkoff. "We're hoping to have the graffiti removed and repaired as soon as possible but need to ensure the removal is carried out properly so as not to do more damage."
ORIGINAL STORY: 5 a.m.
One of Vernon's colourful murals has been defaced, with a swastika and Hitler-type moustache drawn on the face of an indigenous woman.
“This is not the first time someone has defaced a mural in Vernon and this is not the first time someone has defaced the Syilx mural,” said Okanagan artist Sheldon Louis, who posted photos on Facebook of the damage. “This is disheartening and frustrating that people would feel the need or the urge to vandalize a piece of artwork.”
Louis and mural artist Michelle Loughery worked with others on that specific artwork which adorns the outside of AJ's Pets & Things on 31st Avenue.
“This mural project was created years ago by one of my mentors to give at risk youth of all cultural backgrounds the opportunity to create art within the community, to help build life skills, to show the community members the youth artists' talents, to engage the local community as youth ambassadors and to show the youth that there can be bridges built between the generations through art....To see how people treat the work that Michelle Loughery, the youth of the time, and myself had done to honour our Syilx community and our people is upsetting.”
Louis said he would also like to have a conversation with the person who tagged the painting with the moniker, Cody Balls, to “help this young person find a better direction.”
Meanwhile Loughery said work to repair the mural would be done as soon as possible.
“We will get this cleaned up and, perhaps, the person who defaced it found,” said Loughery on Facebook. “Nothing like a hot day scrubbing to set their brain right on disrespect. This is a vital and very important part of art in this community.”