Rental fees waived for Indigenous ceremonial, cultural events in Waterloo

The City of Waterloo will temporarily waive rental fees for city spaces being used for Indigenous cultural and ceremonial events, council decided Monday.

Policy about use of public space by Indigenous groups expected next year

Two people watch as a fire is lit at a sunrise ceremony in London, Ont. City council in Waterloo voted Monday to waive rental fees for Indigenous cultural and ceremonial practices held in city spaces. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

The City of Waterloo will temporarily waive fees to rent city spaces used for Indigenous cultural and ceremonial events, following a unanimous vote by council Monday. 

The fees will be suspended until the city develops a more comprehensive policy about the use of public spaces for Indigenous ceremonies and cultural practices, according to a report that went before council.    

The policy will also consider barriers that Indigenous people currently face in using public spaces, such as cost, red tape and a lack of bureaucratic knowledge about sacred medicines and practices such as smudging. It is expected in the second quarter of 2021. 

In the meantime, rental, permit and incidental fees will be waived for events that:

  • Are Indigenous ceremonial or cultural events.
  • Are open and accessible to members of the local Indigenous community.
  • Comply with city policies and bylaws around space rentals.

Speaking at the council meeting Monday afternoon, delegate Lori Campbell said suspending rental fees is "a must." But Campbell also pressed council on whose perspectives would be included in developing the new policy on use of public space. 

"One of the things I see happening perpetually in this region is something's brought forward by the Indigenous community, and then councils have taken it back and think they're addressing it ... but there's been a loss in translation or understanding," said Campbell, who is Cree-Métis.

For example, Campbell explained that a policy may make public spaces free for Indigenous ceremonies, but require two weeks' notice. That may seem reasonable in theory, Campbell said, but it wouldn't work if there were a sudden death in the community and a gathering needed to happen in a matter of hours.

"I'm concerned that some of those things might be missed," said Campbell.

Ward 2 Counc. Royce Bodaly said staff should make sure the policy includes representation from as many Indigenous communities as possible, including those who spoke at Monday's meeting.

Land Back Camp

The idea of waiving fees for Indigenous events and ceremonies was first brought forward in July by organizers with the O:se Kenionhata:tie Land Back Camp in Victoria Park. 

"For hundreds of years, our people gathered as many nations in what is now Victoria Park, Kitchener," organizers wrote in a petition addressed to the mayors of Kitchener and Waterloo.

"Today, both cities charge us large amounts of money to gather in our traditional places. We are now obliged to obtain permits and seek permission to gather on our traditional land that we have used for thousands of years."

The petition said land in Victoria Park and Waterloo Park should be returned to Indigenous peoples, and that Kitchener and Waterloo should develop paid positions and advisory committees to engage with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Land Back Camp organizer Amy Smoke also spoke at Monday's meeting, saying that young, Indigenous people in the region have benefited from spending time on the land in Kitchener. 

At the camp, people have created medicine pouches, drummed, taken part in workshops and worked on a mural, said Smoke, who is Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan, from Six Nations of the Grand River.

"I think the environment we have created should continue," said Smoke.

Councillors for the City of Kitchener are expected to discuss a similar policy about waiving rental fees for Indigenous cultural ceremonies at a meeting later Monday evening.

City staffers in Kitchener are also working on a proposal to create a dedicated team of staff to work in Indigenous initiatives, including a permanent senior Indigenous advisor position.

Meanwhile, the Region of Waterloo and area municipalities continue to seek proposals for a consultant to develop the regional Reconciliation Action Plan.