Organizers of a long-running summer camp announced in January that they were changing the camp’s name after speaking with local Indigenous leaders.
Camp K is operated by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in downtown Kitchener and has offered summer camp activities inside the Laurel Creek Conservation Area since 1995. Reverend Marty Molengraaf is the lead minister at St. Andrew’s Church. He said that the name change process started with a letter from organizers of the O:se Kenhionhata:tie, also known as the Land Back Camp.
The original name for the camp was a play on words that Reverend Molengraaf said he felt was problematic since joining the church last August. He noted that campers and camp staff had used Camp K as a nickname for a long time.
“There was a letter written to the church in July from the Land Back group. They were just asking for consideration in changing the name and wanted to enter into a bit of a dialogue. When I started in August, I set up a meeting with them and went over to have a conversation with them,” Molengraaf said.
It was a conversation that Land Back Camp co-founder Bangishimo Johnston said they were hesitant about at first. They said that in their years of advocacy work, they have often encountered people who try to deflect blame back on Indigenous communities for asking for change. Johnston added that Reverend Molengraaf has previous experience working with Indigenous communities and knew how to approach the meeting.
“He came in a good way. He brought us tobacco. We had coffee. We sat around the camp and just talked all morning—and he actually listened to us, which was so important when you’re doing this work with Indigenous communities. You don’t tell us what we need. We already know what we need. You need to listen to what we have to say and not be defensive about it,” Johnston said.
Molengraaf said that the conversation at Land Back Camp was the start of a longer conversation between church and camp staff. Through discussions and research, camp staff agreed that renaming the camp was an important step to take.
“I think once you know better, you’re called to do better. That became a bit of a rallying cry to the concerns about the name and recognizing the harm the name created within the Indigenous community. Responding to that became important for us,” Molengraff said.
The camp’s renaming is one of the multiple conversations across Waterloo Region on the harm that names can cause to Indigenous and other racialized groups. The reaction to the Waterloo Region District School Board’s plans to rename three local schools has drawn a mixed response on social media. Reverend Molengraaf said Camp K’s new name was well-received.
“Whether it sounded Indigenous or not wasn’t part of the dialogue back then. But again, when you know better, you do better. There is this blindness that we have as part of the main social group. Without intentionally doing something, we do cause pain, we do cause hurt. Educating ourselves is incredibly important—and we can’t expect that marginalized groups or Indigenous groups will do that education for us, we have to do our own education,” Molengraff said.
Johnston said this is an example of putting in the effort to make reconciliation work. They noted other organizations often start on the right path but then put the onus on Indigenous people to make their case.
“He apologized and said he was going to take this back to his congregation and see what they can do to change the name. He didn’t want us to have to deal with that experience of having to go into another committee to state our case again. He said he would do the work and keep us posted—and he did. Then one day he told us they did vote on it and the name is going to be changed,” Johnston said.
They added that this was an example of putting words into action for reconciliation. It has also created a relationship between the Land Back Camp and Camp K that Johnston said helps create more profound understanding and communication to further reconciliation.
“Now we have this relationship with the church. Now we’re looking forward to maybe visiting their space this summer and having some of them visit our camp there. That’s what reconciliation is about, right? It is two groups working together for change side by side. Not one moving ahead and one falling back, but both of us traveling together down the river,” Johnston said.