Saskatchewan

Legal action against justice camp contrary to reconciliation, say leaders

The relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan is “deeply damaged” and the province’s decision to take legal action against an Indigenous protest camp may drive a further wedge, says the executive director of an organization that works toward reconciliation.

Sask. government says protesting is fine, but Justice for Our Stolen Children camp violates bylaws

Protesters have been at Wascana Centre for more than 100 days, but the Saskatchewan government is taking legal action to stop them from continuing to camp overnight at the site. (CBC News)

The relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan is "deeply damaged" and the province's decision to take legal action against an Indigenous protest camp may drive a further wedge, says the executive director of an organization that works toward reconciliation.

"When I think about this legal action, I think about the fact we're not going to be able to arrest our way out of these issues," said Max FineDay, who works with Canadian Roots Exchange and hails from Sweetgrass First Nation.

"I think the only thing legal action is going to be successful in is driving these two groups further apart."

If the government side is interested in reconciliation, you've got to meet people halfway, and halfway is in that camp.- David Garneau, artist and professor

The Government of Saskatchewan is asking for a court order to remove the Justice For Our Stolen Children camp in Regina's Wascana Centre. It is taking legal action against members of the camp and Regina Police Chief Evan Bray, according to court documents that were filed Tuesday at Regina's Court of Queen's Bench.

Minister of Central Services Ken Cheveldayoff said the government recognized people's right to protest. However, he has stated that Wascana Park bylaws prohibit unauthorized overnight camping, erecting and maintaining structures, and burning combustibles, and that the bylaws should be enforced.

Regina Police Service has not responded to the latest calls to dismantle the camp.

Max FineDay, who heads up an organization that works toward reconciliation, is concerned the Saskatchewan government's decision to take legal action against Indigenous protesters is a step in the wrong direction. (Submitted to CBC News)

FineDay said police can see the camp is not a threat to the community. The people gathered are "in pain," he said, and are trying to raise awareness of the children they've lost, whether it's to foster services, addictions, death or to the criminal justice system.  

David Garneau, a Métis artist and University of Regina professor, agreed the current legal action is hurtful to the cause of coming together collectively to redress injustices.

Indigenous people had felt as if they were being heard through the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and through movements such as Idle No More, but this current action harms those steps, he said.

"The idea that they would be silenced again is really a negative approach," he said.

"If the government side is interested in reconciliation, you've got to meet people halfway, and halfway is in that camp."

A space for dialogue

Protestors at the camp are making "a generous offer" in sharing their stories, and inviting people to come and have a dialogue, said Garneau, who believes the space for that dialogue should continue on an ongoing basis.

"I was thinking about the people who are in cabinet, the people who are in government — those are good people. They love their families, they love their kids, they love their jobs and their constituencies," said FineDay.

He said he believed that if these cabinet ministers knew what Indigenous families had to overcome, and if they were able to listen to their stories, that they too would be joining protestors on the lawn in front of the legislature.

Protestors at the camp are simply asking for that listening, he said, for people to understand there are systems in place causing harm to Indigenous people and their families.

"To me, I don't think that's too much to ask."

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