Camp Mohkinstsis sits in the shadow of the courthouse in downtown Calgary. (Terri Trembath/CBC) For nine weeks the small white tent outside of Calgary’s courthouse has resisted heavy snow, with a brief respite of warm spring sun, followed by pouring rain and gusting winds.
But for Garret Smith and the other residents of Camp Mohkinstsis — Blackfoot for the Elbow River — it’s also been nine weeks filled with songs, smudging, round dances and deep conversations.
Smith, 33, set up camp outside the courthouse in late February as an act of protest, hoping to bring attention to inequalities within the justice system following two high-profile acquittals of men accused in the deaths of two young Indigenous people. Courthouse campout protester says bring him your ‘hard, ignorant, racist’ questions about Indigenous justice
Now, the camp has grown to add two teepees, and the protest signs have been taken down.
"We want to do more than just protest. We want to have a tangible long lasting action that works toward this healing we so desperately need in our community," Smith said Sunday. During the day, Garret Smith is an actor, performing in Quest Theatre’s ‘We Are All Treaty People,’ but in the evenings he facilitates community conversations and healing at Camp Mohkinstsis. (Terri Trembath/CBC)
"It solidified that something like this doesn’t really exist here in Calgary … and there’s a dire need for it."
Smith said the camp was briefly shut down in March, but he was inundated with messages, with some saying the camp had saved their lives.
Vanessa Rain, 28, is one of those people. She’s been sober for the five weeks she’s been at the camp, after fighting addiction and alcoholism for the past eight years.
"What keeps me here is the healing… I love this camp, I love everybody in this camp with all my heart," Rain said, sitting by the fire inside one of the camp’s teepees.
Rain said before she came to the camp, she wasn’t familiar with the story of Tina Fontaine.
Fontaine was a 15-year-old Indigenous girl in provincial care who was found dead in Winnipeg’s Red River. Her body was wrapped in a blanket, weighed down with rocks. People hold up signs during a rally in memory of Tina Fontaine in Montreal on Feb. 24, 2018. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press) In February, Raymond Cormier, 56, was found not guilty of second-degree murder in Fontaine’s death.
"My heart does go out to her family. I wouldn’t be here, right now, in my sobriety if it wasn’t for that little girl. She did make a big impact on the country, on our people," Rain said.
"She did save my life in a way." Vanessa Rain said staying at Camp Mohkinstsis has helped her in her fight against addiction. (Terri Trembath/CBC) While Rain’s speaking, a homeless man approaches the teepee. Rain brings him a bowl of hot food and welcomes him to sit by the fire.
For her, she says, the camp was a way to directly access a healing community — no complicated appointments and referrals, just food, community, support.
"We’re not asking for money, we just ask that because we tried your way, you guys step back and let us heal our people in the way we should be healing, the way we know how," she said. ‘Tangible change’
Smith says there are two supreme court rulings — Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia and Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia — that allow for Indigenous territory to be used for peaceful, traditional purposes, like the camp’s raison d’être: healing and community engagement.The camp is run by volunteers, including women — who Smith and Rain say are the […]
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