After 44 days, Tristen Durocher has taken down the teepee that stood on the grounds of the legislative building in Regina, Sask.
Durocher walked 635 kilometers to Regina from Air Ronge in early July to raise awareness about suicide in the province. Once in Regina, he set up a teepee in front of the provincial legislature and started a ceremonial fast.
His protest, which he called Walking With Our Angels, was a response to a suicide prevention bill put forward by the NDP that was voted down by the provincial government.
The provincial government and the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC) sought a court order for Durocher’s removal in August, saying he was in violation of bylaws.
On Friday, Justice Graeme Mitchell ruled that Durocher would be allowed to “complete his ceremonial fast and vigil without further incident”.
Durocher said he is not looking to extend his stay on the west lawn of Wascana Park and will be leaving the premises after a ceremonial feast today.
“It was only supposed to be here 44 days and we’re ready to pack up and leave now,” Durocher said. “The baton will be passed to whoever wishes to utilize this park in the service of the greater public good in a respective manner, in a democratic manner, in a peaceful manner and a manner that is informative to the public and constructive.”
Durocher said his plans are now focused on recovering from his fast and going back to work as a fiddle teacher.
He said his stay in front of the Saskatchewan legislature building has been educational.
“I learned a lot about the state of the Canadian public’s attitudes towards Indigenous people,” Durocher said. “And I learned a lot about how unwilling the government is to acknowledge a lot of problems that afflict the northern section of our province.”
“It went beyond just learning about all of the people fighting for the same things I’m fighting for, but it also went to the heart of what Indigenous people have been fighting for in regards to our journey towards reconciliation.”
He added there are a lot of members of the public who are unwilling to “even take a baby step” toward the goal of reconciliation.
“Our premier is one of those people because he did speak about reconciliation being a journey, we all need to work together while reconciliation was right across the road,” Durocher said. “And he didn’t do absolutely anything, he sent a few subordinates, he himself didn’t even acknowledge that we exist.”
“Reconciliation was right across the road and he refused to take a single step.”
Durocher has previously said that he invited Premier Scott Moe, Minister of Rural and Remote Health Warren Kaeding and Minister of First Nations and Métis and Northern Affairs Lori Carr for a meeting at the camp in mid-August. He said only Keading and Carr showed up.
Doyle Vermette, the NDP MLA for Cumberland, put forward the bill that influenced Durocher’s choice to protest. He was present for Durocher’s final day at the west lawn.
“He is our hero,” Vermette said. “He is a Métis young youth, 24, who’s seen a crisis going on and didn’t just talk about it, didn’t complain about, said ‘I’m going to do something.'”
Vermette said it was overwhelming to see Durocher accomplish what he had set out to do.
“He’s been very, I think, honourable, respectful,” Vermette said. “He has shown so much young leadership skills.”
Vermette said he will continue to “push this fight forward” and Durocher has brought “so much support” to the cause.
“He has done something truly amazing and he deserves all the support.” Vermette said.
He said he hopes that one day there will be meaningful suicide prevention legislation in place for Saskatchewan that becomes law. He would like to see commitments by the Ministry of Health or the Saskatchewan Health Authority in support of the issue.
Durocher said what the province needs is a new government that isn’t “indifferent” or “heartless”.
“When I arrived in Regina I wasn’t greeted by any political people coming to welcome me, I was greeted by an armed officer from the Provincial Capital Commission holding a highlighted copy of bylaws, telling me I couldn’t set up my teepee,” Durocher said. “I did anyway and now they have to craft new bylaws because they were found to be unconstitutional.”