Organizers of a men’s conference at Brandon University say they are trying to support the local Indigenous community after a teepee burned down on campus.
Rising from the ashes, by midday Wednesday the burned teepee had been rebuilt alongside four others.
In a press release, the Brandon Police Service said the on-campus teepee burned down sometime between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. The fire was out by the time BU security arrived at the scene.
BPS public information officer Sgt. Kirby Sararas said the police department didn’t receive a report about the fire until 5 a.m., several hours after the blaze. Only the slightly charred poles were left after the fire.
"At this time, there are no witnesses and we have no idea how it started, if it was accidental or if it was intentional."
She said officers would be following up on the fire Wednesday night. No witnesses to the blaze have come forward yet, but BPS is asking anyone with information to contact them.
The teepee was put up by American Men’s Studies Association conference members as part of the central theme of the event: masculinity and decolonization.
Cliff Leek, the current president of the organization, said they don’t know yet what caused the fire, but it’s troubling nonetheless.
"In many ways, we wished that we could say that we were surprised, but I think that as an organization that in many ways studies various inequalities, it’s not a surprise. We know that violence and aggression globally (against Indigenous people) is on the rise, so in that sense it’s not a surprise but it still traumatic."
On Wednesday morning, all that remained was a scorched circle of grass near Brandon University’s McMaster Hall.
Building the teepee was about making sure there was an Indigenous presence recognized on campus. It was built by conference attendees with the help of Indigenous elders, so it was both instructional and helped team building.
"I felt a bit of remorse in that we have been invited onto land by community elders and that graciousness being returned with what appears to be an act of hate was problematic," said Jeff Cohen, the AMSA’s president-elect.
Leek said the fire is traumatic, no matter what caused it.
"Regardless of intent, regardless of what actions might have occurred last night, the experience of it is what we’re holding on to."
On Wednesday afternoon, conference members and members of the public came together to build five more teepees on university grounds adjacent to 18th Street. The City of Brandon’s Aboriginal community co-ordinator, Jason Gobeil, was on hand to show volunteers how to build teepees and explain their cultural significance.
Gobeil was involved with setting up the teepee that was burned.
"What happened overnight was an atrocity," Gobeil said, adding that even so, he feels a sense of forgiveness.
"Anger just festers more anger and we needed to get away from that."
Gobeil said that teepees are representative of women.
"When we look at that structure standing before us right now, we see the resemblance of a woman in (a) skirt with her arms out," he said. "The women are the life givers, the women were the ones that provide that shelter for family. When you think of the family that would sit inside of there, they’re protected by all the teaching and the values that come with each one of those poles used in making that teepee."
Volunteer Brett Richard heard about the teepee burning and wanted to show up to support the community.
"I’ve set up a few teepees before, but every time is a new learning experience," he said. "It’s extremely unfortunate that there’s still that discrimination going around here, that we can’t get over that boundary of racism."
Students from Brandon University’s Program for the Education of Native Teachers took the opportunity to take in the experience of teepee building.
"I’m a strong believer of ‘what can we learn from this?,’ ‘what can be taught from this?’ and to come back stronger than ever when something like this happens," said program student Stacy Desjardins.
Gobeil said that he wasn’t sure the teepees would be left standing overnight for fears they might be burned again.
"We’re worried about that but one of the biggest things we understand is that the individual or individuals that set that teepee on fire last night are hurting. They need healing as well too. We’d love to offer them our services as well too and that opportunity to talk with us, approach us and learn."
"There’s too much hate out in the world and one of the things we want to offer is love."
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