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'There is still a lot of ignorance in this country': Indigenous artist heartbroken after mural vandalized

Insulting graffiti shows there's still a lot of hate towards Indigenous people and artists say it's a common problem.

Indigenous artist Philip Cote had one of his murals vandalized with slurs. It has since been cleaned up.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Indigenous artist Philip Cote had one of his murals vandalized with slurs. It has since been cleaned up.

Philip Cote says he was just trying to add some beauty and a bit of Indigenous perspective to his west end Toronto community.

Instead, even before he and a team of artists finished putting the final touches to a mural near the Humber River, someone vandalized it by spraying the words "F-k the Natives" on it last week. Needless to say, it left Cote heartbroken.

"I think it's very bold for these people to say 'you're not welcome here' while they are on my own land," said Cote, a Toronto Indigenous artist, sundancer and Sweat Ceremony leader who teaches an Indigenous visual arts course at OCAD University. He's a member of the Moose Deer Point First Nation.

"It just goes to show there is still a lot of ignorance in this country, the stereotyping of Indigenous communities and people going around using derogatory terms about us. It really hurts."

The vandalism sent shockwaves through Indigenous communities, with many on social media saying it's not an isolated incident.

"It is very sad," Nancy King, a Chippewa/Potawatomi artist in Toronto better known as Chief Lady Bird told Metro. "There are so many narratives out there pushing the "racism is dead" agenda meanwhile things like this vandalism happen every day."

The mural, which was commissioned by StreetARToronto as part of the Pan Am Path project, depicts the beginning of the universe and how Indigenous people look at the world. It features a human face against the light, hanging on a globe.

In the Indigenous tradition, the light represents the physical world where we can see and experience things, while darkness represents the spiritual and mystery world, Cote explained.

Cote, who said he's had multiple incidences of Indigenous art being vandalized both in Toronto and in other communities like Thunder Bay and Sault Ste Marie, vowed to never be discouraged by such acts of racism.

"We recognize this as a flame to add to a fire that says we need to put our voices out there more," he said. "Racism is still alive and well in Canada. I will never stop making public art as I do this for the next generation, who like me, look for a positive reflection of our true selves."

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