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Indigenous gathering in Victoria Park exercising their treaty rights on National Indigenous Peoples Day (4 photos)

Organizers say it's unfair that they have to book a space and pay the city in order to hold ceremonies and cultural gatherings

A local Indigenous group set up a tipi in Victoria Park overnight to celebrate the coming of National Indigenous Peoples Day as well as call attention to the issues facing them.

Organizers say they are exercising their treaty rights as outlined in the Indian Act and Canadian Constitution to gather on public land---without consulting with the city---and practice their ceremonies and cultural gatherings.

Amy Smoke is from the Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan, Six Nations and one of the organizers and says every year they have to book the area in advance with the City of Kitchener.

"When we want to do our spring and winter feast at the pavilion, we have to book the space and pay 500 dollars. Multicultural Festival; we get the back space of the island, maybe, to celebrate our culture and that's part of the reason why we just set this up, cause we should not have to pay for or ask permission from the colonial governments," Smoke said.

Terre Chartrand, local Indigenous artist, and one of the organizers says local Indigenous groups had been using the land---now known as Victoria Park---as a gathering site for hundreds of years. 

"We've been using this for a long time and the most ironic thing is when the Germans arrived here, this is the first place that they were invited to, to learn how to use the land, that is why the Schneider house is where it is," she said.

Both of them don't regard their gathering as a protest as it's well within their rights. Chartrand was even carrying copies of the Ontario Human Rights Commission decision that explained why Indigenous groups were allowed to gather without having to consult with the local government.

"Now will other people see this as a protest? Well they no longer see us as a part of the land. In fact, there's not a single Aboriginal, Indigenous---whatever you want to call it---space in Waterloo Region, where we can gather for ceremony; where we can gather for anything. It's always at the mercy of settlers," Chartrand said. 

She says in her decade working as an Indigenous artist in Waterloo Region, there's been more talk than action when it comes to reconciliation. That more often than not, they've only been gifted temporary spaces to practice their art and culture, among other things.

"It'll eventually get taken away when the land owner decides to change the deal," Smoke says. "Organizations that allow us land, where we're building garden space and practicing food sovereignty, eventually gets turned around on us, and we don't benefit when they sell the land, or they turn it into a parking lot, or whatever."

Smoke says most of the statements and social media messages put out by government officials during National Indigenous Peoples Day amounted to little more than preformative allyship without meaningful actions.

She pointed to how closely related the Indigenous struggle was with the ongoing violence facing Black people. Many systems within the country have failed them, or continue to punish them, from the police/prison system to the lack of mental health support.

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