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Old 06-10-2017, 05:26 AM
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Thumbs up Indigenous activists call Queen?s Park ceremonies a ?birthright?

Indigenous activists who have been holding ceremonies and camping at Queen?s Park since June 1 say that they have a historic right to be there which ?supersedes? park rules.

Davyn Calfchild, hereditary chief of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Siksika Nation, is taking part in a 13-day fast which he hopes will draw attention to a host of issues plaguing Indigenous communities.

Calfchild said he didn?t seek a permit to use the small site on the northwest end of the Toronto park, where he plans to stay and have traditional fire ceremonies with his wife Cathy, activist Gary Wassaykeesic and other supporters until his fast ends June 13.

?Our ceremonies that we?ve been doing on our land for 5,000 years or longer are our birthright,? he said, referring to the notion of applying for a park permit as an imposition by a ?foreign? government.

?We?re here because as long as the grass grows and the river flows there are agreements that are in place and we have a right to do these ceremonies.?

Matthew Cutler, spokesperson for Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation, told the Star in an email that camping and unpermitted fires aren?t allowed under the municipal code, but that Indigenous liaison staff are working ?to balance Davyn?s presence in the park with bylaws, public safety and other users.?

He said that Indigenous people have been using Toronto parks in similar ways for the ?past few years,? and that in these cases the city and police have typically agreed not to enforce bylaw restrictions.

?This is one example of how our teams are attempting to ensure that we reflect on and engage with the history of colonization in Toronto in our stewardship of our common grounds,? Cutler wrote, adding that the Toronto Parks and Environment Committee recently agreed to develop an Indigenous Place Making Framework for Toronto parks.
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To Calfchild, the right to use local parks is not the City of Toronto?s to give, and the Iroquois Haudenosaunee government holds true authority over the land. He said that park authorities ?harassed? him and his wife, and said that the site would be shut down in one encounter.

Cutler was unable to comment on specific interactions between park staff and Calfchild, but said that ?the first response to encampments or unpermitted fires in parks from staff is usually to address public safety and enforce the bylaws.?

All park staff are now aware, Cutler said, of Calfchild?s activities and that he plans to leave once his fast is over.

Calfchild said that it is a pertinent time to raise awareness about Indigenous rights, since June is National Aboriginal History Month, and the Canada 150 celebrations are on the horizon. The celebrations come at a time, he says, when many Indigenous people are living in ?fourth world conditions,? citing food insecurity and suicide crises in communities such as Attawapiskat.

Wassaykeesic, who has been involved in the Idle No More movement and has spoken out about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, says that these prevailing issues inexorably taint the 150 celebrations. He says it seems as though many Canadians are blind to the sufferings of Indigenous communities, even if they are in tune with international disasters.

?My heart bleeds for people from Syria but we see them come here put in hotel rooms, houses job interviews, everything?s in place. Meanwhile my brothers and sisters are dying on the streets and living in Third World conditions,? Wassaykeesic said.

Calfchild said that what Canadians should do for the country?s 150th anniversary is honour the authority and land rights of Indigenous people.

?There should be more chiefs in this park lighting fires,? he said.
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