Earth Day is everyday for the First Peoples

A statement from Indigenous land defenders from O:se Kenhionhata:tie, also known as Land Back Camp

Years of rapid environmental decline and the past year living under the pandemic have amplified a problematic apocalyptic narrative. People are consumed by environmental determinism, deemed “eco-anxiety” by some in the therapeutic professions. However, those who are worried that the world is ending forget that Black and Indigenous peoples everywhere have endured and resisted world-ending at the hands of white supremacy, colonization, and neoliberal capitalism, all of which are key drivers of climate destruction.

insideWaterloo has the honour of publishing a statement from Indigenous land defenders from O:se Kenhionhata:tie, also known as Land Back Camp, for Earth Day — a reflection of what they have achieved, an announcement of their relocation and reclamation of land at Laurel Creek Conservation Area, and what their plans are for 2021 and beyond.

Last year, land defenders joined us to reclaim space in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. During this time, local Indigenous youth and settler accomplices reconnected to land, the environment, and their identity.

After the camp went into hibernation, we continued to host conversations with the cities regarding the creation of sacred fire spaces and medicine gardens in both Victoria Park and Waterloo Park. With Alanah Jewell working on these projects, the goal is for these spaces to be built at a later date in 2022.

This summer, we will be returning and reclaiming space in Laurel Creek Conservation Area. Land Back Camp continues to grow and evolve — our focus has shifted from “occupation” to education. Our goal is to create a land-based education camp for local Indigenous youth and settler accomplices across Grand River territory. Our programming will include ceremonies, feasts, and visits from knowledge keepers.

This year we have some new campers joining us and will be working with Mi’kmaq artist Logan MacDonald. We created a partnership this year with CAFKA who will be working with Logan in hosting a series of workshops throughout the summer with the youth. Logan brings much knowledge as a queer Indigenous artist and we look forward to having him join our space.

While reclaiming land in Victoria Park, we put words into action by planting our own garden and food-bearing trees. We arranged for composting and recycling. We connected to a space in an urban downtown park and left it cleaner than when they arrived. Greener. Lusher. One of the goals for this year is to plant another garden and food-bearing trees while creating space for the youth to learn about gardening, medicines, and traditional foods.

This summer, we will be returning and reclaiming space in Laurel Creek Conservation Area.

O:se Kenhionhata:tie/Land Back Camp

Indigenous people are the original caretakers of Mother Earth. Despite making up less than 5% of the population, we are the most affected by environmental racism, climate emergencies and injustices while continuing to protect more than 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Practices like controlled burns or ceremonial practices involving the Grand River, for example, should always be in consultation with the First Peoples of these lands, who have always nurtured and honoured relationships to land.

Our people knew this for centuries and western science is only now catching up to Indigenous knowledge. We’re willing to help you catch up, but we ask you this. Are you ready to start listening? If not, then get out of our way. We have such a mess to clean up.

Amy Smoke is of Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River. They are an Indigiqueer parent, community organizer, and land defender.

Shawn Johnston is a Two Spirit Anishinaabe originally from Couchiching First Nations. They currently reside along Deshkan Ziibi territory and Grand River territory. They have been a community organizer and photographer for a number of years. Their photo-essay was the winner of Briarpatch’s tenth annual Writing in the Margins contest under the photography category.

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