Saskatchewan

'It just feels like home': Justice for Our Stolen Children camp supporters plan for future

As Justice for Our Stolen Children Camp supporters consult with their lawyers about a judge's decision the teepees must come down, people are making their plans for the future, and how to provide a space for people to continue to share their stories.

Supporters say they will continue to spread their message, provide space for stories

Ronald Elliott, 26, says the protest camp that's been up at Wascana for nearly 200 days has come to feel like home to him. Even if the camp comes down, he hopes that camp supporters will be able to promote their message of justice for Indigenous people. (CBC)

As the last of the Queen City Marathon runners run by Wascana Park on a quiet Sunday afternoon, with cheers ringing in the distance, elders and camp supporters sat down in a circle to discuss the next steps and future of Justice for Our Stolen Children camp.

On Friday, a judge issued a decision that the remaining teepees at the protest camp must come down from the public park and that police were authorized to arrest and remove people contravening the order.

Camp supporters said they were still consulting with their lawyers about the decision and had made no decisions about what would happen next.

"Everybody was ready to stick out the winter. Everybody was ready to stay here as long as it takes to see some change," said Ronald Elliott, who has been a regular visitor at the camp for the past few months.

The camp has been up for 194 days, calling for justice and child welfare reform on behalf of Indigenous people, despite repeated calls from the Saskatchewan government that the protest must come down from the public park.

A sign keeps track of the number of days the Justice for Our Stolen Children camp has been running. (CBC)

After Friday's ruling, Elliot said he didn't see the likelihood that the camp would remain as long as he believed it would, a fact that he said left him saddened.

"Everybody eventually accepted me. It just feels like home now," he said.

Elliott said he feels child welfare reform is particularly needed, even if the camp is removed.

"I've had brothers and sisters too that have had their kids taken away for periods of time. That's not fun," said Elliott. "It's not nice for the kids other. They get detached and estranged."

Cold nights only a small hardship

Darin Milo has been camping at the park since it first began in February.

"The nights are very cold — some of them," he said. "You keep pushing. You realize there's a lot of people that go through a lot of hardships. Sometimes that cold weather doesn't seem so bad compared to what other people go through."

Darin Milo says he's been at the camp in Wascana Park since February. Now he's waiting to see what the future holds. (CBC)

One of the issues that came up over the course of court proceedings was that protesters had not applied for a permit.

Minister of Central Services Ken Cheveldayoff said the judge's decision confirmed "the act of overnight camping, burning combustibles and erecting structures in the park cannot be done without the proper permits and approvals."

However, Milo said that he questioned what kind of government would require people to apply and pay for a permit to only decide later whether or not they would allow the protest.

"That's fundamentally against a free society as a whole," he said.

Robyn Pitawanakwat, a camp spokesperson, said campers understood they had permission to remain at the site through the weekend. Nine teepees remain on the site on Sunday.

Pitawanakwat said that despite what happens to the site, people still need to have an "embassy" where they could come and share their stories, including those of loss and trauma.

"That need remains, whether or not we're allowed to be here," she said. "There is a need for families to have a place to come and to have people that will advocate for them."

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