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Camp Justice

author: maria aman | contributor

(2A)Justice Camp - Jeremy - CMYK.jpg
Justice for our Stolen Children Camp / Jeremy Davis

What the Wascana camp has survived, and why it deserves to stay

The Justice for our Stolen Children Camp has been standing for almost two hundred days. This is no small feat; it has survived the elements, the negativity, and the overall distaste from the government and Wascana Centre Authority.

It is important to remember that horrible injustices in our societies have been targeting Indigenous people for decades in this province and in Canada. Is Canada the land of the true and free? Those words meant less and less to me listening to the government’s lawyer last week saying that “[it] was not about whether the criminal justice system was fair for Indigenous people,” but about following rules.

Personally, I think this response is a ruse made of unfiled paperwork and bureaucratic bullshit. The shit they want to keep us busy with, all while simultaneously ignoring the real and urgent issues at hand: a fair and just quality of life for Indigenous peoples in this province and Canada as a whole, and calling out racial injustice in our criminal justice system.

When farmers in Saskatchewan wanted to occupy the inside of the legislative building 18 years ago, they weren’t taken to court and the police didn’t remove them from the premises; it was business as usual. However, when Indigenous people, brown people, gather in solidarity and lead a peaceful protest outside the same government building, it is worth a formal court hearing, racist attacks, and a public outcry for better reform. To me, these are disgusting double standards of white and brown people peacefully protesting.

It seems as though when the camp was constructed, the government felt eyes on them and didn’t like it. They felt pressured, intimidated, and as if something had somehow been taken from them. Those feelings sound vaguely familiar in light of our Canadian history, but if the shoe is on the other foot, it seems it is treated as a highly contentious subject.

The message that is being sent by the government is that they believe in profits over people. They approve of things in Wascana Park that make money and take up space, but not of things that make our minds richer and help us grow past our comfort zones, out of our fragility.

The Justice Camp is unapologetic. It demands and needs our attention and action urgently. While the teepees and structures on it may not be permanent and may not make us any money, they should still be valued and respected in our community.

I have been lucky enough to visit the Justice Camp on several occasions this past spring and summer. I ride my bike past it on the way to work, and when I stop in, I am greeted by kind campers who are often willing to teach and listen to the public. When I sat in the courtroom last week listening to the statements of the government vs. “the protesters” (as they called them), there were a handful of issues that were pointed out. Some of those issues were the condition of the lawn, not applying for a formal permit (which clearly the farmers of 18 years ago did not acquire either), and that the west lawn had been and would continue to alienate the public from enjoying it.

People who are marginalized for so long in society often feel silenced and unimportant. When these same people finally gain a voice and a platform, it seems the most privileged in our society begin to feel threatened. The wealthy, the powerful (and often the white) aren’t quite sure what to do with protest. Why is that, do you think? Do we really have a problem with the teepees on the lawn? Or is it the ideas and narratives coming from places of power, telling us our rights may be infringed upon? Oftentimes when the most marginalized people are given the respect and equity they did not get for so long, the privileged see them as getting too much. In reality, so much was taken for so long that we grow to take injustice as the norm.

No one and nothing can really be illegal on stolen land. We as settlers on this land must hold the onus on ourselves and use our privilege to make our current society better. Staying silent will always favour the oppressor.

We don’t need more repressive rules and laws to ‘fix’ things in Wascana; we need policy victories and campaigns that reduce oppressive systems and power structures that continue to do our communities harm. There is always a time for civil disobedience; history in this province and the world shows us that. We must move past our society’s internalized belief that rules and laws determine values and morals – on the contrary, I should hope that it can and should be the opposite.

Are we not able to live in harmony together, although we may not agree with everything? Can’t we all still go to the park and enjoy it? Like the words stated in court by Dan Leblanc, the Justice Camp lawyer, “Isn’t the park big enough for all of us? Isn’t Canada big enough for all of us?”

Canada defends our right to protest, we live in a free and democratic society. But, we will never have an emancipated society if we choose to double down on rules that limit select groups and demographics of people.

We need those people that speak up about issues that force us, force society to reflect and question. We need to be a collective and empathetic society. If we are not angry about the way that government is treating our community members just because it’s not directly affecting us, then nothing will ever change in the name of justice.

If we want true liberation in our society we must start by liberating the west lawn.

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