Saskatoon teepee camp enters 10-day agreement with city, say camp members

The city of Saskatoon says it will support a peaceful Indigenous protest camp that has been set up in a local park.

Camp planning cultural activities, will likely move after events complete

Saskatoon man Chris Martell started the Healing Camp For Justice in Saskatoon. (Omayra Issa/SRC)

A teepee camp set up in a Saskatoon park plans on holding ten days of ceremonies and sharing activities before revisiting its future.

Saskatoon's Healing Camp For Justice set up a teepee in Saskatoon's Victoria Park Tuesday night. Camp members say their focus is the issue of Indigenous children in care of social services.

"It's going to provide an opportunity for people to come by and share our stories and we can all learn," said camp member Dave Lyons-Morgan. "And hopefully heal a bit."

The camp was founded by Chris Martell, whose 22-month-old son drowned while in foster care in 2010. The camp members said they want to create a safe space for people who want to talk about Indigenous children in care and receive counselling.

Morgan said the camp's direction has been heavily informed by Martell, who has a very strong vision of what he wants the camp to look like.

"Chris's vision of this is very much a place of welcoming, healing energy, not necessarily a militant protest camp," said Morgan. "Chris has a very calm and welcoming and engaging energy to himself."

Chris Martell, Dave Lyons-Morgan, and Nancy Greyeyes say they have no plans to go anywhere. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

While a firm timeline for events hasn't been established, the camp plans on holding a sharing circle Thursday night and a teepee-making cultural lesson on Friday.

Once the ten days are up, Martell will likely either move back to a similar, well-established camp set up in Regina's Wascana Park, or negotiate moving his teepee to another Saskatoon location.

"Chris is feeling pretty happy with the ten days," said Morgan. "He's been feeling pretty buoyed by some of the decisions that have been happening."

City supports camp

Saskatoon's director of Aboriginal relations, Gilles Dorval, said he plans to work with Martell and Saskatoon police to maintain a peaceful protest.

Allowing the teepee is part of reconciliation, he said.

"We've got to move through some difficult conversations when we're on our reconciliation journey," Dorval said. "It's not something that we can ignore, the lack of action that's occurred in the past."

I just want something positive to come out of this.- Chris Martell

The provincial government has called for the removal of a similar camp on the legislature grounds in Regina.

The Justice for Our Stolen Children camp was started in late February to protest racial injustice and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children apprehended by child-welfare workers. The camp has grown to 14 teepees.

The first teepee in Saskatoon's Healing Camp For Justice was set up Tuesday night. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Some protesters met with government officials on July 2 and have said they aren't going anywhere.

Martell, 35, visited the Regina camp more than a week ago and said that it was powerful to meet everyone and share stories. He said he's suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental-health issues since his son's death.

He said that he felt compelled to go back to his hometown of Saskatoon to help others and doesn't have any plan to leave at the moment.

"I just want something positive to come out of this," Martell said. "That's why I'm here — to make sure changes happen in the foster-care system so something that happened to my son and me won't happen to anybody else."

The Saskatoon Police Service said it does not believe the situation requires police involvement and have sent members of their cultural unit to speak with the camp.

With files from The Canadian Press