Indigenous activists, allies in Hamilton to demonstrate against encampment removals

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Published November 23, 2021 at 8:42 pm

Activists and allies in Hamilton are planning a noon-hour rally tomorrow against encampment evictions, saying a lack of consultation with the Indigenous community violates the very treaties that are part of the city’s land acknowledgment .

A statement shared by the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic (HCLC) at hamiltonjustice.ca calls for people to “Join Indigenous Voices Regarding Encampments” at 12 p.m. on Wednesday (Nov. 24). The demonstration will take place at the Strachan encampment community at Bay and Strachan streets in downtown Hamilton.

The statement also calls for the removal of the statue of 19th-century British monarch Queen Victoria from Gore Park, calling it “a reminder of genocide.”

Three weeks ago, an Ontario Superior Court ruling affirmed that the city could remove encampments from its property. The HCLC had attempted to get an injunction like one it obtained in 2020 that enabled encampment dwellers to stay in one place.

Since then protesters have tried to prevent encampment evictions. On Nov. 12, a group blocked the entrance to a public works facility. Workers using city vehicles could neither enter nor leave.

The statement shared by the HCLC ties the encampment evictions to “500 years of police and government sanctioned colonial violence” against Indigenous peoples, noting they are overrepresented in the encampments. It also says consultation with the Indigenous community, which numbers about 16,000 people in Hamilton, did not take place before city-council and court decisions enabled encampment evictions to resume.

It calls the evictions a “violent act (that) further displaces encampment residents, destroys any sense of safety and/or security by dismantling the only place they call home and violently disposing of personal belongings.”

The decision to clear encampments where unhoused people are living since they might not be able to find shelter space or subsidized housing was made three months ago. On Aug. 10, Hamilton city council voted 10-2 at an emergency meeting to return to pre-pandemic enforcement of what is referred to as a no-camping bylaw. One lower-city elected representative, Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann, later said the meeting was called on such short notice that she missed it due to a dental appointment.

“Consultation is a way of working with the Indigenous community and consultation did not happen when the decision to remove the encampments, removal that impacts Indigenous people, was made,” the statement reads.

Hamilton has an Urban Indigenous Strategy, which it began developing late in 2016. City council and committee meetings begin with a land acknowledgement that states, “The City of Hamilton is situated upon the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas. This land is covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which was an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabek to share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. We further acknowledge that this land is covered by the Between the Lakes Purchase, 1792, between the Crown and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

“Today, the City of Hamilton is home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island (North America) and we recognize that we must do more to learn about the rich history of this land so that we can better understand our roles as residents, neighbours, partners and caretakers.”

The HCLC statement avers that the encampment evictions violate the spirit and intent of agreements that grant treaty land inhabitants (also known as settlers) permission to govern the city.

“We recognize our roles and responsibilities and are speaking out against the mistreatment of our brothers and sisters who have had to make encampments their homes. The Indigenous way of being, our way of life and our roles and responsibilities DO NOT INCLUDE treating other human beings with such disrespect to dismantle their homes and toss their material possessions to the garbage. This is not how we manage our relationships with others. Our way of being includes consultation, compassion, empathy, caring and love.

“Removing the encampments without alternatives for those displaced is taking away the spoon. When we take away the spoon, we are feeling privileged enough to interpret the treaty, Dish with one Spoon, in a manner that justifies our behaviours and accommodates only our needs and wants. This was not the intent of the treaty on Indigenous land. No one is privileged to interpret the treaty to benefit only them and this includes elected officials such as mayors and council members as well as policing agents who carry out their mandates.”

The contention that many unhoused people are out of options is backed up by a recent CBC Hamilton report. In September, it reported that city data showed that only 15 per cent of unhoused people whom outreach workers connected with over an 18-month period found permanent housing.

Want statue removed

The mention of removing the statue of Queen Victoria comes in the 13th and final paragraph. The Indian Act, residential school system and other state instruments that were intended to weaken Indigenous identity were founded during her reign in the second half of the 19th century.

“By not having her already removed reminds us that the city is not hearing the voices of Indigenous people,” the statement says.

In July, Hamilton city council committed to holding a landmarks and monuments review, but voted against removing a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald that also stood in Gore Park. The city emergency and community services committee heard from Indigenous delegators that the review would lack credibility if the statue of Canada’s first prime minister remained in place.

Thirty-six days later, the Macdonald statue was toppled.

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