A First Nation in Port Alberni says a controversial public speaker will not be welcome in their territory following anti-Indigenous comments she made online about residential schools.
Tseshaht First Nation of Port Alberni put out a public statement on Oct. 20, 2023 stating that Tanya Gaw and her group Action4Canada are not welcome in Tseshaht territory or the Alberni Valley.
In response to Tseshaht’s statement, the City of Port Alberni is also looking at options to keep city-owned facilities “free of hate.”
Gaw, the founder of conservative Christian group Action4Canada, was originally scheduled to host a presentation at Char’s Landing, a privately-owned entertainment venue in Port Alberni. However, after receiving what venue owner Charlene Patterson called “bullying, threatening and hateful social media posts both by Action4Canada and against Action4Canada,” Patterson made the decision to cut ties with the event. City council also said no to hosting the event in any city-owned venues.
On their website, Action4Canada says their mission is “to protect Canada’s rich heritage which is founded on Judeo-Christian biblical principles.” But Gaw and her organization have received backlash for promoting anti-LGBTQ, anti-Indigenous, anti-Islam and anti-choice messages at many events. The group was banned from school board meetings in Mission earlier this year after promoting “hateful propaganda” at a meeting.
Tseshaht First Nation pointed to a recent tweet by Gaw on Oct. 12, 2023, where she claimed that recent discoveries of unmarked graves and burial sites at residential schools across Canada are a “charade” and a “witch hunt.” She adds, “The graves are empty and indigenous violence is their own doing!”
Tseshaht First Nation is currently in the process of scanning the site of the former Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) and announced earlier this year that at least 67 children died while attending the school.
“We are reminded that racism is alive and well across this country, including Port Alberni: but we also know that those who embrace such prejudice and discriminatory views are simply the loud minority,” said Tseshaht First Nation elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh (Ken Watts).
“We call upon our entire community to continue to speak out against hate and racism because if we allow individuals and organizations such as this to practice their ‘freedom of speech’ in this form, it is only going to create more division in this country.”
The City of Port Alberni addressed the controversy at their regular meeting of council on Monday, Oct. 23, with council directing staff to prepare a report outlining options to keep city facilities free of hate and inclusive of all groups. Council also stated that Action4Canada will not be permitted to hold this particular event in city-owned facilities.
“I feel that any time a First Nation calls upon us to stand with them, we need to hear that,” said Coun. Dustin Dame. “I recognize the rights of groups and individuals to freedom of expression, but we have to balance that against ensuring the safety and well-being of all residents.”
Dame added that it’s also important to acknowledge historical truths, such as the impact of residential schools on First Nation communities.
The organizer of the Action4Canada event in Port Alberni could not be reached for comment.