"Land Back Camp: Our Voices" is a series of photos that spotlights the Indigenous people and settlers of O:se Kenhionhata:tie, also known as Land Back Camp. The camp began in late June 2020 with only a teepee and two tents beside a playground in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, and later moved to Waterloo Park in Waterloo in October 2020. Its original intent was to temporarily “occupy” a space in the park – an area which had for centuries been a gathering place for Chonnonton, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Huron Nations under the Dish With One Spoon Wampum, but for which we now were forced to seek permits and permission to gather on.
After the second day, Indigenous and settler youth began to show up at the camp asking to join the space, and with each passing day the camp grew. The co-organizers – Amy Smoke, Terre Chartrand, and myself – are Two Spirit, and we observed that most of the young people at the camp were also Two Spirit, queer, trans, and/or non-binary. Land Back Camp had become an Indigenous queer space for young people to reconnect and learn about their Indigeneity.
We created four calls to action, each of them demanding change from the surrounding cities and region: (1) waive all fees involved for Indigenous communities to gather in public spaces; (2) create an Indigenous advisory committee that will work with the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo and the region; (3) hire a team of Indigenous people who will work at all municipal levels; and (4) return the land in Victoria Park and Waterloo Park to Indigenous Peoples, so that it may be used for ceremonies and gatherings.
Land Back Camp called upon Turtle Island for support. We set up a very successful GoFundMe page, an online auction, and a petition that received over 5,000 signatures. In August, we held a rally that shut down Waterloo Town Square, and started the largest-ever online letter campaign to reach Kitchener City Hall.
Land Back Camp reclaimed land in both Victoria Park and Waterloo Park for six months. Our efforts resulted in the City of Kitchener and City of Waterloo meeting three of our four demands: waive all fees for Indigenous events hosted in public facilities, hire Indigenous people to city positions, and create ceremonial gathering space in both Victoria Park and Waterloo Park. This past December, the camp was honoured with the Atlohsa Peace Award. Our movement continues to grow, with plans for a culture camp in the summer of 2021.
This photo-essay was the winner of the photography category of our tenth annual Writing in the Margins contest, judged by Pat Kane. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) for this year’s contest.
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