The Indigenous occupation camp in Victoria Park is holding its own event in lieu of Canada Day, to mourn the loss of Indigenous lives and culture since the country's founding.
Many Indigenous groups across the country don't even celebrate Canada Day, even calling for its cancellation. For many, the day represents the systematic oppression they've face in Canada, even more apparent now as reports of confrontations between Indigenous and police gain national attention.
The occupation camp itself represents an attempt to carve out an Indigenous space within Waterloo Region, taking up a small portion of Victoria Park, and will stay that way until a more permanent physical space is provided. Organizers are using it as an opportunity to teach youth of their culture and help them reclaim their identity.
"This is an occupation; we're here exercising our treaty rights; we're not here as a display; or a resource; or a demo; this isn't a human zoo. We are here, living here as an occupation on our territory," said Terre Chartrand of the Algonquin Nation, one of the organizers.
Wednesday's event is being held for the benefit of the local Indigenous community, and organizers are asking people outside the community to respect their space and stay away.
"Folks might think we are celebrating in some sort---we will be lighting candles---it's more of a memorial, and to mourn the loss of our people as a whole," said Amy Smoke of the Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River, another of the organizers.
Traditional dances in full regalia and drum circle are happening that day, but Smoke says it is not an opportunity for people outside of the Indigenous community to culturally enrich themselves. Over the past week alone, the group has had to deal with people walking through the camp and expecting the group to educate them on Indigenous issues.
At one point, the organizers say a man interrupted their two-spirit circle and after asked to leave, proceeded to spout religious dogma and sing. Organizers Smoke and Chartrand, both of whom are two-spirit, say for some of the youth at the circle, it would have been their first time coming. On top of all that, Chartrand says the man had approached their children as well, with no mask on hand.
The group is now considering making a sign asking people to respect their sacred space.
"Cause people don't seem to notice that this is a circular space, and they enter wherever they can. So we're going to put up sign sort of in those spaces, letting people know that ... please don't touch anything, please don't touch us, don't take any pictures, don't enter our sacred spaces," Smoke said. They are also considering putting up information and links about Indigenous issues on signs as well, so they can avoid having to educate people every time someone decides to stroll through their camp.
The organizers do ask that anyone outside of the Indigenous community who wants to help, can help by preventing others from wandering into the camp and starting trouble. Another way is by donating to the occupation camp.
"Even better is to not come and support us with a donation. That donation goes to feeding our camp. It goes to crafts supplies; it goes to cultural supplies. We're going to be building regalia for some of the youth, so the ability to buy supplies to make that happen," Chartrand said. You can make the donation HERE.
Following an earlier meeting with the mayors of Kitchener and Waterloo, the Indigenous camp is expected to stay within the park, without any hassle from Regional police or bylaw.
The event itself is expected to go from noon until 8 p.m.