On June 20, 2020, Amy Smoke, Bangishimo Johnston and Tere Chartrand created the O:se Kenhionhata:tie Landback Camp in Willow River Park, which is run by Two-Spirit Indigiqueer folks and queer and trans settler accomplices. Since then, the Camp has made many strides with projects such as the Indigenous Community Hub, Queering the Grand and the Mural Project. The Camp represents many nations that live under the peace of the Dish With One Spoon Wampum, and the Two Row Wampum. Alongside Two- Spirit and Indigiqueer folks, youth members are held in reverence.
“People tend to highlight focus on elders and knowledge keepers. And youth voices often get left out of those conversations. Getting to speak my mind now is a step above and beyond anything we had before Landback camp came around, I think it’s important for youth voices to be heard. Especially because I hold strong to the belief that I can learn from everybody because everybody has different life experiences,” Dewe’igan Myeen’gun Bearfoot, a founding member of Landback Camp, said.
Bearfoot also helped facilitate a startup nonprofit called My Cup of LGBT and is a part of many activist projects around the KW Region. Bearfoot believes in the wisdom and experience that comes at any age. She is a strong proponent of Indigenous youth and young people to speak their minds on Indigenous issues and to participate in Landback Camp activities.
“I’ve been a part of land that camp kind of since its creation. I joined Landback camp, before it was even land back camp. It was my Aunty, [she] was one of the co-founders and she messaged me on Facebook one day and said, ‘Hey, raising a teepee in the park for national indigenous people’s day, you want to come up and help out?’. [I said,] ‘Yes, of course. I’d love to,’ and so I came out,” Bearfoot said.
Since that day, Bearfoot and the many others who had come to set up and protect the teepee stayed longer and longer. Their cause grew with the tides of change that followed their initial campout in 2020. Landback Camp’s program now includes workshops that share traditional teachings such as drummaking, medicine bags, community gardening and bi-weekly drum circles with sacred fire.
“The whole theme of land band camp and providing permanent space to our community within KW for our Indigenous community and everyone attached to that. Another goal, as I mentioned, was just creating that safe space for Two Spirit folks,” Bearfoot said.
For Indigiqueer and Two-Spirit people, safe spaces like Landback Camp are imperative for their collective well-being. First Chonnonton, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee and Huron Nations peoples have created safe spaces through community gatherings. Landback Camp as it stands now acts as medium for First Nations peoples to come together in public spaces once again. LGBTQ+ settler accomplices are also welcome to gather in the Great Peace in order to celebrate, learn and thrive with their Indigenous neighbours.
“A community for our community. And to get the Landback. We didn’t have because we actually didn’t think we would last long and we figured we’d get torn down in a couple of days,” Skye Smoke, the youngest co-founder of Landback Camp, said.
With each passing year, Smoke and the other founders become more and more frustrated watching Indigenous Communities in Waterloo Region constantly struggle for a gathering space. This glaring need coupled with the increasing violence towards Indigenous people sparked this camp and its tight-knit community.
“We realized that for indigenous queer youth there’s no access to programming in town, [or] for queer elders or so ceremony. We realized we were sitting, filling the need for queer racialized spaces,” Amy Smoke, one of the co-founder of Landback Camp said. Smoke is a Two-Spirit, Indigqueer parent. They are of the Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan, from the Six Nations of the Grand River.
Landback Camp members are able to achieve their goals with the help and support of the local KW Region. In the midst of many ongoing anti-Indigenous sentiments and violence, community provided funds, food, firewood and medicine is greatly appreciated. For more information on how to support Landback Camp members please visit; https://www.landbackcamp.com/support.