A group of people occupying land at Victoria Park is planning a larger gathering on Canada Day in a call to cancel the national holiday.
“Canada Day is not a day of celebration for Indigenous people. It’s an Indigenous day of mourning,” said Terre Chartrand of Algonquin Nation, one of the organizers of the occupation.
More than a week ago, Chartrand and a few others set up a teepee and tents at the back of Victoria Park. The group has since grown to about 15 people, Chartrand says.
The peaceful occupation includes Indigenous women, two-spirited people and youth. It’s meant to be a reclamation of land that once was a hub of activity for Nations including Chonnonton, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples.
‘We don’t celebrate the day’
As an extension of their occupation, organizers say it’s important they take a united stand against Canada Day, which they’ll be partnering with Idle No More to do.
“We’ll be doing a memorial service for all the lives lost since last Canada Day, particularly to police violence and colonial violence,” said organizer Amy Smoke of the Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River.
Calls to cancel Canada Day and decisions not to go forward with celebrations have come from Indigenous communities across the country in past years.
“We don’t celebrate the day.This country was built on the backs and blood of my family and my people,” said Smoke.
What the group does celebrate, she said, is creating a safer space for people of colour and the queer community.
‘Stand for our safety’
Chartrand says she couldn’t access the park for many years because it felt so dangerous.
“We’ve put this teepee here as a stand for our own safety and a reclamation of a space that has seen so much violence,” said Chartrand.
The goal is also to make it a sustainable space through growing gardens and finding ways to nourish the people in the camp.
“Our big goal is to create sustainability and safety for this community that has started to grow here,” said Chartrand.
Organizers say the response from the community has been largely positive. Some neighbours have even offered their bathrooms, said Smoke, yet there have been some incidents that have made the group feel unsafe.
As for the political response, organizers have met with local mayors and are encouraged that their rights haven’t been infringed and their tents are still standing.
“I know we won’t be out of here in two weeks,” said Chartrand.
They would like to see more action, particularly a permanent space along the Grand River for the group to connect with the land and their community.