‘PLAN TO STAY’: Protest camp at Manitoba Legislature will keep sacred fire burning, says organizer

·4 min read

It has now been more than a week since eviction notices were handed out at an encampment on the Manitoba Legislative grounds, but despite those warnings, some at that encampment say that so far they have no plans to pack up and leave.

On Thursday morning, the Winnipeg Sun spoke to Danko Makwa Kaypeytashete, an elder and residential school survivor, while she and several dozen other people remained at an encampment that has been set up for more than 14 months on the east side of the Manitoba Legislative building grounds.

Kaypeytashete said that when the news first broke in May of 2021 that what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves of children were discovered near a former residential school in Kamloops, a ceremonial fire was lit on the legislative grounds to honour those children.

She said soon after it was lit, it was decided that the fire should continue burning day and night until all former residential school sites in Canada where unmarked graves could be located are searched, and now 14 months later she said the fire continues to burn and the encampment remains.

She said while they have been set up on the grounds, they have also allowed others to come and take part in ceremonies.

“In Winnipeg there are families that have lost loved ones and have nowhere to go, and they can come here and be with that sacred fire, and we invite them here,” Kaypeytashete said.

And despite eviction notices being handed to them on Aug. 23, she says they plan to stay, but did admit that she and others have been in talks looking for a resolution to see if the encampment could either be ended or moved somewhere else.

“Plans are to stay, and no I don’t agree with the law, I believe the sacred fire should stay lit while all those sites are being searched, and more unmarked graves are found,” she said.

“And we were told maybe an alternate site, but I don’t want it to be in a situation where we are out of sight and out of mind.”

She said she believed talks would continue this week.

The law banning permanent encampments on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature was passed in June, and the province said it has been put in place for “the safety of staff, visitors, tourists and other protesters.”

That legislation gives the province authority to determine what can and cannot occur on the grounds, and it allows for the banning of encampments, vandalism, and vehicle blockades.

It also bans setting fires, brandishing weapons, as well as depositing generators, firewood or other items to support any encampment.

During a Tuesday press conference, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen was asked why the encampment remained at the site on the east side of the building this week, despite eviction notices being handed out more than a week ago.

He said Manitoba Justice will be responsible for finding ways to get that encampment removed, but also said he would not get involved in his role in how the rules are ultimately enforced.

“Manitoba Justice together with other law enforcement entities are responsible for enforcing the legislation that now exists, but how that enforcement happens isn’t directed politically any more than any other enforcement mechanism is enforced,” Goertzen said.

“We will continue to leave that to those who are responsible for enforcement.”

He said there were talks recently between the province and Indigenous leaders regarding the encampment, but added no resolution came from those talks.

“There was engagement with the Southern Chiefs Organization and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to see if there was some sort of resolution that could be found,” Goertzen said.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that was successful, and if fact it may have been an escalation to some degree.”

He claimed the sole purpose of the new legislation was people’s safety and security both inside and outside the Manitoba Legislative building.

“The legislation was passed because it isn’t safe for permanent encampments to be on the grounds of the legislature,” Goertzen said.

“It’s not safe for those who are in the encampment, it’s not safe for those who are visiting the legislature, and it’s not safe for those who are working at the legislature.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun