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'Our voices aren't being heard': co-founders of Land Back Camp on Queen Victoria statue, renaming park

The City of Kitchener says it is not considering changing the name of Victoria Park
Queen Victoria statue vandalism May 5 2022
The latest vandalism to the Queen Victoria statue was reported to police on May 5, 2022

'If we're talking about one, then we have to be talking about the other.'

That's the message from the co-founders of Land Back Camp on renaming Victoria Park in Kitchener.

City councillors recently approved a public consultation and education strategy on the Queen Victoria statue in the downtown park, which could take up to a year to complete.

While speaking with CityNews 570 on Thursday, Bangishimo with Land Back Camp said since conversations are taking place around the statue and colonization, they felt the park name should've been included in the talks.

"The city needs to acknowledge not only the statue, but also the park itself -- it's named Victoria Park, obviously. If they're going to start having the conversations around what to do with the statue over the next 12 months, they also need to include in that conversation the name of the park itself."

Both Bangishimo and Amy Smoke, another Land Back Camp co-founder, are taking matters into their own hands by promoting a new name of Willow River Park.

"The meaning of the name comes from the Mohawk word," explained Smoke. "Willow River is what we called the Grand River before colonization."

They're asking community members to adopt the new name, and noted they don't need the city's permission to do so.

"Why should we have to wait through the red tape and delegations and speaking before city councils for that change to happen," questioned Bangishimo. "And it probably wouldn't. So we were like ... let's call upon the community to just start referring to it [by] the new name."

Smoke admitted they're not expecting any type of city response, or official change to come from their effort.

"I don't know that I have great expectation from the city, cities, or region. We're talking about the statue -- they want a year-long process. How long will it take them to do a name change for the park?"

The City of Kitchener did provide a statement to CityNews 570, confirming it is not considering changing the name of Victoria Park.

The statement read, "Council has given staff direction to proceed with a comprehensive, equity-informed engagement strategy regarding the Queen Victoria statue, and staff will proceed with implementing this direction."

Smoke said they weren't pleased with council's recent decision to keep the Queen Victoria statue standing in the park as staff carries out the year-long equity driven consultation.

"Some of the councillors didn't even know what that meant, they had to have equity driven explained to them," said Smoke. "Our voices aren't being heard. We don't need year-long consultations."

They also addressed council's endorsement of installing Indigenous art adjacent to the statue in the interim.

"We're not here to make that pretty. I don't know what they think that we're gonna add to it ... some sort of pretty flowers and feathers and drums ... that's somehow going to make the idolization of a colonial figure better? Prettier? More palatable?"

Bangishimo recently unveiled a logo for Willow River Park from Western Sky Designs and said t-shirts and stickers will be available for purchase soon, with proceeds going to Land Back Camp and Orange Shirt Day.

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