In August 2020 Kitchener City Council, in consultation with Indigenous groups, approved the access and use of public spaces by Indigenous peoples to carry out cultural and ceremonial practices.   

This is in response to the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Final Report. An important step in this line of action is the plan to produce a space for fire ceremonies in Willow River Park, which should be available in the summer of 2024.   

O:se Kenhionhata:tie or Land Back Camp took part in conversations with the city that lasted three years, that permitted this project to become a reality.   

For Amy Smoke, co-founder of Land Back Camp, this space for fire ceremonies will be an important place to build community for Indigenous community members and, through this connection, strengthen wellbeing and health.   

¨This place for fire ceremonies will be a sacred space, to connect to the land and our ceremonies,” Smoke said.  

“It will normalize native peoples on the land. This leads to community well-being and mental health for all of us,” they said.   

Fire ceremonies are a normal part of many indigenous communities, the place where the fire is built can have a special design.  

Olivia Maine, member of O:se Kenhionhata:tie, said everything from the directions of entry and exit to the number of stones used are considered. The specifics vary depending on the community.   

“We all use fire, water, air and the ground. Nature is where we connect spiritually, it is where you we are meant to be,” Maine said.  

Willow River Park is a very visible and easily accessible location in downtown Kitchener. It is ideal for anyone using the transit system, people using mobility aids or tliving in urban settings.  

¨Nature is our church, it is the space where we go. And [Willow River Park] is an accessible location for the Indigenous organizations in Kitchener-Waterloo,” Smoke said.   

For O:se Kenhionhata:tie it is important that Victoria Park become a safe space for different people. Their hope is that this ceremonial space can help people of different communities feel welcomed and respected.   

“We chose this space because the significant racial and gendered violence that has occurred here. We took the back of [Willow River Park] as racialized, Black, Indigenous, queer people, we are reclaiming the space that we once felt safe in,” Smoke said.   

Maine said progress on the fire space felt stagnant for a while, but the efforts of the members involved are finally being realized.  

Maine grew up outside of her culture and said she understands the importance of visible and accessible cultural spaces for Indigenous community members.   

“I grew up being adopted, outside of my Indigenous culture, and it was always hard to find places where I saw myself. Having a space that is completely visible and accessible would have been an amazing thing to see, it would have been amazing to see my community and be proud of it,” Maine said.   

“We have always been here and I hope that with this space there will bring more acknowledgment of different people, compassion and understanding,” Smoke said.