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On October 22nd and October 4, two camps erected by Indigenous protesters in Winnipeg in response to the 200 unmarked graves that were detected at Kamloops Residential School were forcibly dismantled around the Manitoba legislature. This was done on the basis of a bill passed in June 2022, the "Legislative Security Amendment Act - Bill 18".
Although the official reason for the bill was the Freedom Convoy movement, it was mainly targeting the Indigenous Sacred Fire camps. The land surrounding the Manitoba legislature has been used since its establishment for protest camps, demonstrations, and sacred fires.
Some prohibited activities included in the bill are: lighting a fire, camping, depositing firewood or other supplies to support an encampment, and vehicle blockades. The north camp stood for a variety of causes such as resisting COVID-19 restrictions, the search for unmarked graves, and conflict in the Middle East. The sacred fire at the east camp was intended to guide the spirits of the residential school students home.
The two encampments received eviction notices on August 23rd. On October 4th, the north camp was evicted and dismanteled by the police. The antagonisms between the police and the north camp had been increasing until their eviction. The campers resisted the eviction and as a result, twelve people were arrested and charged with obstructing peace officers. The bill states the evictions are up to police disgression.
The east camp, which had held the longest known sacred fire in Manitoba, was evicted the morning of October 22nd. Three people were arrested and fined $672 for occupying a tent. The site was cleared out and fenced up, the sacred fire ring still smoldering.
North Star spoke to a camper at the east camp before the eviction, "We practice ceremonial protocols, we don't condone violence nor do we stand for it. We are peacekeepers, we are helpers in other words. We are the Creator's helpers. All we are doing is helping him keep the fire lit."
For decades the Indigeous people of Winnipeg have occupied the Legislative grounds for protests and ceremony, including the lighting of sacred fires. The indigenous community has been voicing their concerns over this bill, and the east campers don't plan on breaking their promise of keeping the fire lit.
Details aren't clear yet, but there are plans to light another fire. "We've got to [keep the fire lit] until all of the schools have been searched."