Land Back camp moves from Victoria Park to Waterloo Park, calls on the city of Waterloo to take action

Photo by Erik O’Neill, The Community Edition

In October, O:se Kenhionhata:tie, also known as Land Back Camp, relocated from Victoria Park, Kitchener, to Waterloo Park. 

Land Back Camp has been ongoing since the summer, with Nov. 11 marking 143 days and counting since the camp first reclaimed its place in Victoria Park.

“The move was weeks of planning. We explored our options but we knew wherever we were going to, we would have to plan for the cold and it was coming, which is why we wanted to move before it actually did get cold,” Shawn Johnston, co-organizer of Land Back Camp said.

Since the summer, the organizers have been having weekly meetings with the cities and said that while Kitchener has met two out of four of the camp’s demands thus far, Waterloo has yet to make concrete change. 

“We named them in the original petition. They’re part of the overall demands and, [we] really wanted to then physically be in their city to put more pressure on them.” Amy Smoke, co-organizer said. 

In October, the Kitchener Council approved a plan to hire a team of five full-time positions to address racism and inequity at the city, and also waived fees for Indigenous communities to host events in public spaces, meeting two of the camp’s demands. 

“The city of Kitchener had really concrete action. It’s like we’re starting at the beginning again with Waterloo. We’ve had a couple of meetings so far, and they were disappointing to say the least,” Smoke said.

Since moving from Victoria Park, Land Back Camp has seen less aggression from the public. 

“We’re not on guard 24/7, whereas at Victoria Park we were always surrounded by people constantly,” Johnston said.

“[It’s] a very different demographic, we’re not in a downtown urban-type space where we are highly visible. We are sort of in a little alcove out here,” Smoke added.

“We still get the occasional person who does not agree with what we’re doing, and from what we understand, some of the Waterloo counselors have received some emails about, ‘Why are we staying in the park? Why are they letting us stay in the park?’” Smoke said. “Again, that speaks to the general ignorance of folks. This is our treaty right, we’re not trespassing.” 

Land Back Camp recently acquired a trailer and erected a fence, which borders the perimeter of the camp. The organizers said these additions have added to the security of the camp. 

“With the rising numbers of COVID-19, it’s just not an option for folks to come and go as they did before,” Smoke said. 

Since leaving Victoria Park, the organizers said the city of Kitchener has begun to protect the camp’s former site. 

“We actually had to physically leave for us to actually get a space in the park,” Johnston said.

Johnston stressed the urgency for the cities to make these decisions faster. 

“[Indigenous people] are being killed or murdered, we’re going missing because of racism every single day and they want us to sit around for a few months and just wait for reports on the table,” Johnston said.

Even though Kitchener has met some of the camp’s demands, there is still work to be done. 

“Neither city really talks about giving land back to Indigenous folks, it’s a tricky conversation,” Smoke said. 

“We’re the fastest growing population in Canada. We’re not going anywhere and we need to start taking back our spaces, in order to continue to care for the land and protect water and all of those things for our children and our children’s children.” 

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

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