By Cory Bilyea
KITCHENER – Two women and a girl have taken over part of Victoria Park in Kitchener, to make it known that there is a great need for Indigenous People in the region to have a place to gather, hold ceremonies and be re-connected to Mother Earth.
A Haudenosaunee mother Amy Smoke, her daughter Skye and Terre Chartrand, a Metis artist, set up a teepee and invited the region’s First Nations community to join them in an impromptu Indigenous Day celebration.
They chose Victoria Park because it is a traditional gathering, trading, feasting, and ceremonial site of the Chinnonton, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe nations.
Smoke said, “We’re taking back this space, we’ve chosen this area to celebrate because Victoria Park historically has been the site of some white supremacy activity, anti-LGBTQ2S behaviour, and criminal behaviour.”
The desecration of traditional gathering spaces needs to stop and these women are hoping to bring about a great change in the region.
With many projects started over the years in the Waterloo Region for local First Nations, one theme remains consistent, eventually, they are asked to leave, undoing the hard work and dedication to the land.
Recently a community garden that was in its third year of planting, renewing plants and trees that were indigenous to the area, was fenced and padlocked by the “owners” who sited personal differences.
Rare seeds and trees had been donated to the site, and many tours were given to educate and inform people who wanted to learn about the area and the traditional foods that used to grow there. The food from the garden was to be used to help feed the communities most vulnerable.
This is but one example of what happens over and over in the Waterloo Region.
On their Facebook page they explained, “Over the years, we have had to pay for land that has been used by our peoples since time immemorial. We gather as sovereign people on Indigenous lands in celebration of our vibrant, alive, and current culture through ceremony and our bodies on the land.”
They also were disappointed that Waterloo Region had either forgotten or deliberately did not plan any events surrounding National Indigenous History Month, or National Indigenous Day so they decided to occupy this land in a show of celebration, solidarity, and to say enough is enough.
“In this year, many communities have created events to come together in safe ways, to celebrate Indigeneity through the celebration of culture and Indigenous peoples on the land. Kitchener Waterloo has announced no such solidarity or even a hat tip to its occupation on Indigenous land. In their own event, a “Solstice” event, KW has once again committed an act of Indigenous erasure.”
The teepee was erected on Saturday night with a sunrise ceremony held on Sunday morning and a day-long discussion happened with many passersby.
Local men’s big drum group, Cedar Hill Drummers attended the event and many people brought their hand drums, sharing songs with onlookers and singing together in celebration, solidarity, and community spirit.
Chartrand said, “the red tape and permits we have to go through to hold feasts, ceremony, or anything land-based is just more traumatization to our people.”
Every year for decades, the pavilion in Victoria Park has been used twice a year to hold spring and fall feasts. The cost to do this is $500, to rent space on their own territory.
In 2008, John Ralston Saul, a Canadian award-winning essayist, and novelist wrote A Fair Country, Telling Truths About Canada.
According to his biography, in the book Saul argues that Canada has been heavily influenced and shaped by Indigenous ideas, including an original approach to egalitarianism, a taste for social complexity, a constant balancing of individualism and groups, a penchant for negotiation over violence, and a focus on inclusion which has encouraged positive attitudes towards immigration.
An excerpt from this explains the demoralizing practices that still happen today.
Do we have any sense of honouring all those who have passed before us on this land? European culture in southern Ontario represents a paltry 200 years. What of the culture that evolved on our land for over 10,000 years? European incursions into Aboriginal land in North America were a slow process that was completely dependent on Aboriginal knowledge and trading up to 1670. After that a colonization process interrupted, disrupted, and demoralized Aboriginal culture throughout the Great Lakes region. When the Mississauga Nation consented to the British Crown granting 6 miles on each side of the Grand River to the Six Nations in 1789 the demoralization was already completed and further dishonest Colonial government policies of reservations, assimilation, and marginalization added to the burden that aboriginal people’s had to contend with.
Chartrand, Smoke, and several other Indigenous folks are prepared to stay in Victoria Park for as long as it takes to get some real dialogue happening with the city and some real change creating safe spaces for Indigenous people to practise their way of life unimpeded.