Indigenous youth set up protest camp outside Toronto's Old City Hall

Inspired by the Soaring Eagle’s Camp movement across the country, Indigenous youth are joined by seasoned activists to raise awareness about injustices facing Indigenous people across Canada.

Soaring Eagles Camp aims to raise awareness about injustices faced by Indigenous people across Canada

From left, Dean Mcleod, Koryn John, Ezra Green and Gary Wassaykeesic at the Soaring Eagles camp outside of Old City Hall in Toronto. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC )

Following the Justice for Tina Fontaine rally this past Sunday in Toronto, a youth-led occupation has set up camp outside Old City Hall in downtown Toronto.

The group set up three tents Sunday on the southwest portion of the grounds of the building that currently functions as a provincial courthouse.

"We're trying to create a space where we can engage with community and have conversations but also try to make and encourage active change to the justice system and the child welfare system," said Ezra Green, a Mi'kmaw activist from Peterborough, Ont.

Green is part of the Indigenous Youth Movement, a Toronto-based group made up of water protectors and land defenders.

Green and Koryn John set up the camp, inspired by the Soaring Eagles camps in western Canada.

First camp in Winnipeg

The first Soaring Eagles Camp was set up by Darla Contois Feb. 22 at the Manitoba Legislature in the wake of the acquittals of Raymond Cormier, who was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg, and of Gerald Stanley, who was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie ​in Saskatchewan. Last week another camp was set up outside of a Calgary courthouse.

John got into contact with Green after being inspired to set up a camp in Toronto when she spoke with Garrett Smith, one of the organizers of the Calgary camp.

A group of youth have set up camp outside of Toronto's Old City Hall, inspired by Soaring Eagles Camps in the west. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

"I think people need to be held accountable for their actions," said John.

"They're making it easy to kill Indigenous youth. We need to make it hard. We need to say you cannot get away with hurting us, killing us, abusing us. You can't get away with it anymore."

Organizers seek to raise awareness about the ongoing injustices facing Indigenous people in Canada.

"The more the youth stand up and stand strong and say we're not going to allow this to happen, then maybe the system will change," said John.

Older activists assist

The youth have been joined by a few older Indigenous activists acting as peacekeepers who were involved in the Occupy INAC movement in 2016. 

Gary Wassaykeesic has been participating in Indigenous-led activism for the last 15 years and has joined the youth outside Old City Hall.

"The system was put in place on purpose," said Wassaykeesic. 

"It was designed for our people to do what you see today, the incarceration of our people. We have more kids in care now then we ever did in residential schools."

While he was attending residential school, his mother was murdered in 1979. Wassaykeesic was 11 years old at the time.

His search for answers in the murder of his mother led Wassaykeesic into activism.

"Now I take it upon myself as a responsibility for the people that can't be here, the ones that have passed on, for Tina Fontaine and for others," said Wassaykeesic.

Dean Mcleod, who is from Sagamok First Nation, said he got involved in Indigenous activism four years ago after he was approached by Wassaykeesic and a few other men who said they needed his help and that the women needed his help, too.

Mi'kmaw activist Ezra Green, right, offers a smudge to someone who has dropped off supplies to the Soaring Eagles Camp. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

"I wasn't sure of myself but now I am sure of myself and what I can do because they gave me the teachings. I learned a lot from these teachings," said Mcleod.

Mcleod joins Wassaykeesic as a peacekeeper sharing their experiences in activism with the youth.

"I love it when the youth are doing this because I know there are always going to be fighters in the movement," he said.

"I've met a lot of young protesters. I like to be there to give my part because maybe one day they'll know what a peacekeeper does."

Green said they appreciated having the older activists on site.

"We've been watching our elders do a lot of hard work for a long time and for us to be able to come together in spaces like this is amazing," said Green.

"To be able to have protectors that have experience to come share their skills and training with us is what's going to make this camp really successful and sustainable."


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.