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Regional council hears Land Back call for Indigenous community space in K-W

Councillor Tom Galloway raised the possibility of repurposing vacated daycare centres to meet the needs of Indigenous communities in Waterloo Region
Land Back Camp
Photo from Land Back Camp GoFundMe page

After collecting over 3,000 signatures on a petition for an Indigenous Community Hub at the former Charles Street bus terminal, the co-founders of Land Back Camp had the opportunity to bring the conversation to regional council on Monday as part of the first of three public input meetings on the proposed 2022 Plan and Budget. 

Speaking as a delegation were both Amy Smoke and Bangishimo - known also as Shawn Johnston - as the two spoke to their experience operating the Land Back Camp in the community since June of 2020 and creating a safe reclamation space on the land for Indigi-queer youth to gather. With no physical building available to gather, Bangishimo said the plan was originally to erect a tipi in Victoria Park for a handful of days - though that plan changed after being approached by Indigenous youth looking for a place to reconnect with their culture. 

"At that point, the three of us sat down and came up with four demands with the camp - we became a reclamation space within the middle of a busy park."

Both Bangishimo and Amy Smoke have since met regularly with city staff and councillors in addressing those demands, meeting three of the four that were issued - though issues persist in finding an accessible, permanent space for members of the Indigenous community to come together and gather on their own lands. 

"We are a people that is constantly displaced on our own lands - we do not have a physical building to call our own home. We do not have an Indigenous community centre, we do not have a friendship centre. We do not have an Indigenous community hub."

Bangishimo noted that the Land Back Camp has relocated three times since its beginnings in Victoria Park, facing issues of vandalism, harassment and racial violence at all three locations - as they argued little has been done to protect the camp from white supremacy. 

Forwarding a potential plan for an Indigenous Community Hub in Downtown Kitchener, that proposal by ReAllocateWR would see a sizeable facility built on the space of the former Charles Street Bus Terminal. While those plans include mock-up images from two UW architectural students, Amy Smoke noted that the establishment of that space doesn't necessarily need to be at the Charles Street Terminal - but there needs to be action in giving land back.

"The Krauss Lands - those look great. Whatever you deem surplus; whatever you consider extra, you might want to consider doing the thing - the reconciliation thing and giving it back." said Smoke. "The input stage that we're at - we just wanted to bring it to your attention. You've all been emailed the open letter, the petition (...) this is definitely public input from some Indigenous community members - we don't speak for all..."

Councillor Tom Galloway noted there may actually be some opportunities to see an Indigenous Community Hub established in the region, as he looked for further specifications on what's being asked for by the Indigenous community in terms of size and location - though Smoke noted that the proposal made in the circulated petition is a "wish-list" or "conversation point" containing options they'd like to see in a centralized, accessible space that meets the needs of the Indigenous community. 

Galloway raised the possibility of looking into the needs of the various Indigenous organizations in the region, and repurposing some of the daycare centres that were recently vacated - including the Edith MacIntosh Child Care Centre in downtown Kitchener - to meet them.

"I'm wondering whether or not those facilities are the kind of thing that might be candidates for that kind of use - I'm not trying to prejudge that, but I'm wondering if we could ask staff to look into this at some point in time." said Galloway. 

While no formal motion was introduced during the public input meeting, there was interest in further action being taken on the matter by the region's Diversity and Equity group, while the CAO of Waterloo Region, Bruce Lauckner, said he'd be happy to being consultations if directed by council. 

"We had the conversation about like - even if we weren't under one roof, that we have a place where we can at least gather; that there be a space available that Healing of Seven Generations can book for their events, White Owl can book for their youth events, we can book for our Two-Spirit Queer events - even just having a space that's accessible for us - because right now, we do not have that." said Bangishimo. "We understand the importance of consultation, and we think that it'd be important to sit down with (...) the rest of the leaders from the Indigenous communities and hear their visions."

"Amy and I just want to bring this to the table - we want this conversation to start happening and get the ball rolling."

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