By Cory Bilyea
KITCHENER – The O:se Kenhionhata:tie occupation camp at Victoria Park has entered its third week and they have faced the good, the bad, and the ugly since taking a stand on National Indigenous Day, June 21, 2020.
An excerpt from the writings of one of the organizers explains, “We got tired of seeing our people and especially youth, work so hard to reclaim space in beautiful ways – Eden Eramosa, RARE as recent examples of beautiful community space with so much love… Being “gifted” and then clawed back.”
She goes on to explain, “The trauma is deeper than losing a space. It is a fresh trauma that echo’s the deeper ones of removal, apprehensions, and loss. Connection is lost. Community is lost. And we fall and tumble deeper. I feel gutted as I watch these young people who I know and love like nieces and nephews, and ones I haven’t met yet but love the same, torn from space, identity, torn from me and others who held them because we had a place where we could… Torn from the elders and knowledge keepers who would share and give so much, because the land would provide for us what it always has: that connection that is the very fiber of all of our existence.”
A testimonial from one of the youths at the camp says,
“Tansi, my name is Ryan and I am from the Cree nation. Being an Indigenous youth that has grown up in the foster care system, in a city where there are very few Indigenous services, it’s always been hard to find a way to connect to my culture. I’ve always wanted to get involved and find spaces where I feel like I fit in but since coming here (camp), I’ve felt a connection to my culture and the community that I have never felt before. I’ve met so many amazing people and have learned so many teachings that I will carry with me for the rest my of life. It’s been an honour to be a part of this occupation and fight against colonialism and the systematic racism that plagues the black and brown communities. I am here to fight for the lands that have been stolen from us.” – Ryan
On July 1, the camp hosted a small community gathering that was held simultaneously with “Canada Day.” On their Facebook page, they said, “Today we mourn those who have been lost, our culture and way of life. Our right to exist in our own home was stolen from us. Today colonialism is being celebrated around us.”
While the camp does host community members for different functions like this, they have made a perimeter around them to keep themselves and the youth and children safe from the COVID- 19 virus.
An agitator who has been there before would not take no for an answer on his request to enter the camp, where he feels he should be allowed as “this is all God’s land,” according to him. He was met with resistance and asked to leave the area, and instead of doing that he attempted to go around the protectors and push his way in, and in doing so, he pushed Chartrand, a woman.
The next evening the camp was surrounded by 4 white men who attempted to intimidate them, breaching the perimeter several times, then sitting nearby and staring the camp down.
A call was put out at that time for some protection from the community, and some youth answered that call, as well as some members of the Six Nations community.
Ali, one of the non-Indigenous helpers at camp, said, “As a settler, I’ve noticed that one of the most revolutionary aspects of this space is the reality that this space is not for settlers. All day I see people approach the camp expecting to be greeted. The sight of Indigenous people’s dwellings and culture out in a public space is normalized as something to be consumed, while Indigenous peoples themselves often barely have access to their own culture. That is very telling as to why they need Land Back.”
Unfortunately, the actual KW community has met this camp with mixed feelings, a few of the members upset with the lack of “consultation,” so they have decided not to support the “land back camp” for this reason.
The organizers did consult many community members, as well as people within the Long House on Six Nations and proceeded with their support.
The lateral violence from some community members and online with the self-proclaimed blood quantum “police,” have brought to light the disfunction and divide in the local Indigenous population, where the fight for limited funds from the government and doubts about who is a “real native” has created a detrimental effect on those who live there.
The city has been back one time to discuss moving forward plans and one of the first things the organizers asked for was a waiving of all fees for park use for ceremony and gatherings. Paid Indigenous employees at City Hall would create a safer, more understanding relationship, and the constant need to educate the many different people that are sent to “talk” would be replaced with actual action.
The camp has claimed the space in Victoria Park to be home to a gathering space, a sacred fire, and a community garden and has requested this be made permanent.
They are looking for a permanent space, somewhere along the Grand River, within a bus ride from town, to create a permanent healing place, with teaching lodges, a sweat lodge, and paid community elders and knowledge keepers to hold workshops and other cultural activities.