A group of Indigenous people plan to camp on the Manitoba legislative grounds in Winnipeg until all former residential school sites in Canada have been searched.
On June 25, the group started a sacred fire and pipe ceremony in honour of residential school survivors. It’s now turned into a long-term commitment: keeping the fire lit until all school sites are searched
“Our sacred fire has been lit to help the sacred spirits of our lost children find their way home,” said Aaliya Leach, one of the camp’s organizers.
The legislative grounds have been a busy spot recently for many events including sacred fires, marches and even the toppling of two queen statues on Canada Day.
The group however say they are purely there to heal and raise awareness.
“We’re really indulging in our culture, our practices, and the healing we’ve been doing even in the past week has been so rewarding,” said Leach.
As the group sits on government property, police presence can be frequent.
The group says they’ve had negative and disrespectful encounters with police officers in uniform.
They’ve asked Winnipeg police to approach their group in plain clothes with no weapons.
“There is no reason for the police department to be bringing weapons here,” said Leach. “We are a peaceful village we are peaceful people.”
Despite some negative encounters with officers, a Winnipeg police liaison from the Indigenous Partnership Section says the police service adheres to camp members’ requests when possible and works on positive relationships with the Indigenous community.
It doesn’t need to be an ‘us against them’,” said Insp. Bonnie Emerson. “This is about raising awareness for a really critical issue for all Canadians.”
Emerson says while they do their best to respect the requests, it’s not always possible for officers to approach without uniforms on.
“Depending on what it is — because policing is dynamic — there could be in-progress incidents where public safety won’t be compromised.”
Meanwhile, Leach says overall contact with the liaisons is positive and encourages non-Indigenous people to visit the camp.
“How can we fight for our sovereignty, fight for the justice, for the equality if we are all fighting each other? We want to open up our space to show who we are as people, what our culture is like, and how peaceful and kind that we can be,” said Leach.
The camp is taking food, drink, and financial donations from anyone in the community who would like to help.