Victim of hit-and-run at residential school march says incident underscores need for awareness

·4 min read
Dozens of marchers were at an annual march to honour survivors of the former St. Mary's Indian Residential School in Mission, B.C., on Saturday. (Robert Jago - image credit)
Dozens of marchers were at an annual march to honour survivors of the former St. Mary's Indian Residential School in Mission, B.C., on Saturday. (Robert Jago - image credit)

A victim and a witness of a hit-and-run at a march honouring residential school survivors say the incident shows why the march was necessary in the first place.

The incident happened Saturday at around 12:30 p.m. in Mission, B.C., near the site of the former St. Mary's Indian Residential School on Lougheed Highway.

Participants of the march were walking along the eastbound lane of the highway after starting from Fraser River Heritage Park. Dozens of people, including Indigenous elders, women, and children, were in attendance.

Christopher Robertson, who was at the front of the march and singing, said a driver at the back of the march started to yell at the march attendees when they were around 100 metres from the gate of St. Mary's.

Robert Jago
Robert Jago

"I'm not entirely sure of all of the words that were exchanged, but it definitely got some people really upset," he told CBC News.

"I started running back into that direction and I was just kind of like, 'Hey, just walk away, let him go.'"

Shortly after, Robertson pointed at the driver, who was in a blue truck, and asked him to pull over. But instead, he says the driver accelerated and drove straight at the marchers.

"I kind of sidestepped, jumped. He still ended up catching my right knee with the passenger side," he said.

"My other brother kind of went up over the hood, still landed on his feet … there was a total of five of us that ended up getting hit."

Robertson said the victim who went over the hood, a traffic controller wearing a high-visibility vest, suffered a concussion and had multiple bruises after being hit.

Most of the other victims, he says, were "lucky" and were pushed out of the way by the truck.

Robert Jago
Robert Jago

In the moment, Robertson says his biggest concern was the children attending the march — who were in a wagon near the shoulder of the highway.

Police said in a release issued Saturday that two people were hospitalized after the hit-and-run, with four people hit in total. They have the suspect's licence plate number and are trying to find him, the statement said. No children were hit.

Police also said the incident did not appear to be targeted, and did not have "anything specifically to do with the people marching or their cause."

But Robertson, who suffered minor injuries, and Garrett Dan, a witness to the hit-and-run and one of the organizers of the march, say the incident underscores a larger issue.

RCMP had said the driver was "impatient," and that he was trying to get around the group "despite the safety risk."

But Dan says the RCMP's assertions don't add up, and there was more to Saturday's incident than their initial statement.

"[The driver] was shouting stuff out. He was being racist, using some racial slurs," he said. "We have a whole bunch of witnesses to what happened to my brothers."

The march was organized by the group Crazy Indians Brotherhood, which is a mentorship and rehabilitation program involving Indigenous men, with multiple chapters across B.C.

It was their second annual march honouring the survivors of the former school in Mission.

Dan says the RCMP are not taking the incident seriously enough, given the potential harm it could have caused to the marchers.

"I really, really hate saying something like this, but it's like … what if their [victims'] skin was a different colour? What if they were white and this happened?" he asked.

"How big of a stink would they make? You know, it makes you ask questions like that."

RCMP did not respond to requests for additional comment Sunday.

Robertson says he couldn't say for certain what the driver's intentions were, but that he wasn't the only impatient person on the highway that day.

"Some people respect. Some people don't," he said.

Robert Jago
Robert Jago

The driver's actions illustrate why Robertson, Dan and the others were out marching on Saturday, they say.

"We need recognition. It's people like him [the driver] that fuel people like us," Robertson said. "Our people need truth."

For his part, Robertson says he is grateful for the support he has received from the brotherhood and the community, with the victims being supported by each other.

"What helps us all stay strong is standing with each other no matter what," he said.

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