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100 days of Land Back Camp

Progress is being made with the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, as organizers prepare for the colder weather ahead
Land Back camp
File photo by Phi Doan/KitchenerToday

It's been 100 days of occupation for organizers of the Land Back Camp within Victoria Park.

Since it first started back in late June, the space has grown considerably, becoming a striking fixture of the park for the past hundred days. It served as both a sacred space for Indigenous people and a political demonstration.

Organizers have been calling on the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo to double down on their reconciliation efforts and properly address local Indigenous concerns in a tangible way.

For local Indigenous activist Shawn Johnston, of the Anishinaabe First Nations, the past hundred days can be best summed up in a single word: "exhaustion."

The slow-moving machinations of municipal politics means they have been going at the pace set out by local government. City officials being paid for their time, while organizers air their grievances on their own personal time.

Notably, one of the camp organizers Amy Smoke, Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River, has been there from the very beginning. They've ended every day so far at the camp, sleeping overnight, despite living the closest.

Organizers do say they have been making progress with the cities, though they aren't at liberty to divulge much information at this time. So far the two cities have already agreed to waive the fees for Indigenous events in city-owned parks. Now city officials and mayors have been meeting with Land Back on a weekly basis, according to Smoke. The current topic at hand is the demand around a paid Indigenous Council to guide reconciliation plans.

"Unfortunately though, number two is not the one we're really discussing: actual space, actual land," Smoke said. The group has been pointing out the lack of permanent Indigenous spaces within Waterloo Region. Their last demand is around paid Indigenous positions within local government to ensure their voices are heard on municipal matters. Smoke noted that they have yet to meet any officials from the region in their discussions.

"But the cities are committed to addressing all four demands," Johnston said. "They said that themselves; they want to meet all four demands. They're obtainable; they're achievable."

"They might get it wrong every once and a while, and we have to rethink some things, as most settler-organizations and institutions do, but they are committed — they know they are way behind the game, and they have admitted that in every single meeting. But they're catching up."

Organizers are looking into starting up their letter-writing campaign to keep pressure on the cities.

When the camp isn't busy with city officials, they've been using the space to help connect Indigenous youth to their culture, even serving as a two-spirit space for many of their members.

But the group has had to deal with its fair share of anti-Indigenous racism on a daily basis, once again underlining the lack of space for them. Despite taking up only a small portion of the park, Smoke says there are still people that see them as a major inconvenience.

"We would never be able to do ceremony in this kind of a space. We would never get through a sweat-lodge. The circles that we have attempted to hold are constantly interrupted." Smoke said.

They have heard people mocking the camp with the "Indian war cry," and in another instance Johnston recalled a man who told them to go back to Asia across the Bering Strait.

"Some other guy said we apparently killed off — that the Indians killed off all the Eskimos," Johnston said.

"Which just in itself is was the most racist thing that I have ever heard, and completely untrue," Smoke added. "The whole sentence there were like a dozen things wrong with that entire sentence. So that misunderstanding of their own history of the country that they're so proud of, it is so mind-blowing to us."

They also put out a post on their Facebook page, explaining to others in the community that they are an Indigenous space, not a educational space for people. This comes after a Laurier professor had apparently suggested students visit Land Back Camp and 1492 Land Back Lane as part of their Reconciliation and Social Work class.

Given the situation around 1492 Land Back Lane, the post warned that you could get arrested by police. There were more than enough education materials available out there that people can educate themselves with, instead of bothering Indigenous people who aren't going out their way to educate others.

Recently Land Back Camp did celebrate the showing of their film, "Stories from Land Back Camp," shot by Eric O'Neill who has been documenting the group. More showings of the film are planned along with applying it to film festivals.

Organizers are currently looking at the next hundred days as we enter colder weather, and planning for winter camping. They are thanking the community — particularly the youth — for their support and donations of blankets and stews through this time.

For more information on Land Back Camp, check out their Facebook page here, as well as their website here.

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