Manitoba moves to evict Indigenous encampments from legislative grounds

Flags, tents and wood for a sacred fire have stood on the east side of the Manitoba Legislative building since May 2021.

A camp was erected in response to the discovery of unmarked graves at some of Canada’s former residential school sites.

Mary Starr, a residential school survivor, has been a fixture there to find comfort and healing.

“This is where I come and I’ll say my prayers for the little ones that didn’t make it home,” she says. “That’s why this camp was started.”

But now the campers have been ordered to pack up and leave.

Eviction order

An eviction order was delivered to two camps on the grounds by provincial officials and Winnipeg police officers.

“It was kind of scary, like, when they came here,” says Billy, a Fire Keeper at the camp. “Five police (officers) came here and I think two police vehicles came here, too.”

“They’re just trying to force us to get out of here. Not a chance.”

The eviction deadline is noon on Aug. 23.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Justice says the order was issued because encampments are no longer allowed on the property. Politicians passed new legislation recently on safety and security grounds – particularly around the issue of campers “setting fires.”

Protests and rallies

However, protests and rallies are still allowed, the spokesperson says.

Starr disagrees with the fire ban due to the ceremonial context of an Indigenous sacred fire.

“The sacred fire is not setting a fire, there’s a difference,” she says. “It’s a sacred fire and this is what we do – that’s our ways.”

Sacred fires are used to connect spiritually to ancestors and the spirit realm. They also require a Fire Keeper, a person whose role is to watch, maintain, and care for the sacred fire and therefore it is never left unattended or allowed to burn out.

“I’m Treaty 1; this is my territory, and I’m going to remain here,” she says. “And whatever happens on that day when they come in, if they use force, then so be it.”

She says the campers will leave once all former residential school grounds have been searched for unmarked graves.

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