Repeated vandalism targeting Mary Stewart’s public anti-racist message has only made her more determined.
Last summer, the 70-old resident of Scotch Creek began posting signs supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement at the end of her property along Squilax-Anglemont Road.
Every sign she posted, 22 in total, was torn down, most damaged in the process. One had a prohibitory symbol (circle with a line through it) spray painted over it. Another was stolen and later returned with the words, “Burn, Loot, Murder” written on it.
In the process, it became obvious to Stewart that not everyone in the North Shuswap shared her beliefs.
“Several people thought I should be really careful and maybe I should stop putting the signs up, but I just couldn’t not do it,” said Stewart. “I just feel that racists… they don’t really come out and show themselves. They’re real cowards. So I wasn’t really that afraid.”
Stewart was compelled to put up her first sign by the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd in the U.S. resulting from an altercation with police. Floyd’s death prompted widespread protests and an uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement across North America.
“The initial sign went up in solidarity with the people that were saying, ‘we care and we don’t agree with racism,’” said Stewart, whose first sign lasted for about a week.
Stewart’s third sign was torn down twice on July 15. The second time, she saw the person doing it and reported his licence plate to police. She shared the encounter on Facebook, stating a man in his 30s quickly got back in his truck and drove off.
“I found the sign right where he had been standing. The big strong racist had broken the flimsy piece of old plywood in half,” wrote Stewart.
A friend, Nancy Parkinson, began helping Stewart. The two made replacement signs (no longer out of plywood). Inevitably, those too were taken down. Though initially angered by this, the two quickly became determined.
“We’ll just keep doing this until we can’t do it anymore,” said Stewart, noting how when she was putting one sign up, a guy behind the wheel of a logging truck gave her the finger.
“It’s pretty disheartening to know for sure that this kind of racism exists and is really out there in our community. We won’t give up,” commented Stewart on the incident on Facebook.
With February being Black History Month, and the 24th being Pink Shirt (anti-bullying) Day, Stewart’s friends decided to make amends for the 22 destroyed signs by putting up signs of their own on Feb.22 for their new creation North Shuswap Anti-racism day.
“Mary’s friends have followed this story and wanted to support her efforts,” commented Larissa Lutjen in an email to the Observer. “They feel that not only is the trespassing, vandalism and lack of police interest upsetting, but the destruction of these signs is a shameful display of intolerance, at best, and outright racism at the worst.”
Lutjen welcomed all North Shuswap residents to participate.
A retired elementary school teacher, Stewart said she would continue to keep a sign speaking out against racism posted at the foot of her driveway. She stressed that education and open discussion are key to addressing the matter.
“We need to talk about it, we need to bring it out and we need to educate and not think we can bury it because it can’t be buried,” said Stewart.