Hundreds attend Land Back Rally in Waterloo Town Square

Photo by Alyssa Di Sabatino

On Aug. 6, an estimated 400 people gathered in Waterloo Town Square at the Rally for Land Back, held by O:se Kenhionhata:tie, also known as the Land Back camp. 

Attendees rallied with O:se Kenhionhata:tie and called on the cities of Kitchener-Waterloo to give the land back to Indigenous Peoples and allow them to gather on traditional spaces without being charged a fee. 

Members of the Land Back camp have been gathered in Victoria Park, Kitchener since June 21.

“We demand change! We are tired of being charged fees to access space on our own lands. We are tired of not having ceremonial spaces to gather. We are tired of excuses. Kitchener-Waterloo it’s time to change!” read the statement on the Facebook event page

The rally, which started shortly after 7 pm, marked the 47th day and counting since O:se Kenhionhata:tie reclaimed the space. 

“We don’t call it an occupation. We like to use the word reclamation because we’re reclaiming the land, because occupying implies that we’re taking over someone else’s space. We’re reclaiming — reclamation means that we’re actually taking back our own space,” co-organizer Shawn Johnston said. 

“After 47 days and a number of meetings with the mayors we decided that it’s time to continue to take action and keep putting pressure on the cities, so we’re like, ‘okay, let’s bring people together in a public space and create some disruption, temporary disruption’ and that’s what happened today with the rally.” 

The rally featured speeches from local Indigenous and Black activists, as well as the organizers of the camp. 

Co-organizer Amy Smoke reaffirmed the camp’s calls to action, which include that all fees be waived for Indigenous communities to hold events in public spaces and that the land in Victoria Park and Waterloo Park be given back to Indigenous peoples’ for gathering and ceremonial use. 

The third call to action is that the cities create paid positions at all levels for Indigenous Peoples to be able to engage with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples living on this territory. 

The final call to action is for the cities to create paid Indigenous Advisory Committees that will address racial injustice, the lack of access to Indigenous services and ceremonial spaces and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 94 Calls to Action. 

“They have done almost nothing in regards to addressing the 94 Calls to Action that came out over five years ago and the cities have still come up with nothing feasible to work with us,” Johnston said. 

During the rally Johnston also noted that there is no Indigenous Community Centre or Friendship Centre in KW. 

“When Indigenous People want to come together, we’ve got to come to public places like this, like the Waterloo Square, like the Victoria Park pavilion, where we’ve got to spend 500 dollars just for us to gather, and that’s completely unfair,” Johnston said. 

“We have nowhere to gather in the city. When we do have the pavilion for our community dinners, there are so many of us that we even fill up that space because it can’t hold all of us, because there are so many of us here.”

“I go to other cities and I see gatherings and public spaces, their Community Centres and we don’t have that here, and that kind of makes me sad that we can’t do that here. So yeah, it’s time for change,” Johnston added.

During the rally, the organizers also credited the Land Back movement’s success to the Indigenous youth who helped to grow it.

Smoke also mentioned the support the camp has received from other local groups, namely, Black Lives Matter Waterloo Region and the African, Caribbean and Black Network of Waterloo Region. 

To conclude the rally, organizers and attendees moved from Waterloo Public Square to the intersection between King St. and Willis Way, blocking traffic for approximately 20 minutes.

The organizers began a series of songs and chants, concluding with the Travelling Song to close in ceremony. Attendees held signs in support with the rally and participated in a “Land Back” chant. 

“We’re wishing everybody well — and [our] ancestors, whoever is here with us today — in each of the four directions,” Smoke said of the Travelling Song. 

Despite a successful rally, there is still much work to be done. Smoke made note of 1492 Land Back Lane, a Land Back movement in Caledonia. 

“[They] are doing a very different land reclamation and were raided yesterday by the OPP with rubber bullets. They have blocked the rail line, the bypass, all the access roads in and drove the OPP out. That’s my reservation, I am just in support of all land reclamations by the First People,” Smoke said. 

Those looking to support the Land Back camp can sign their petition or contribute to their GoFundMe page.

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