Closing ceremony held for Walking With Our Angels camp in Wascana Parkby Daniella Ponticelli
After 44 days standing on the west lawn of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building, the Walking With Our Angels teepee was taken down Sunday night.
That afternoon, the camp held a closing ceremony to mark the end of Tristen Durocher’s 44-day fast to raise awareness of the high rates of Indigenous suicide in Saskatchewan.
“There’s no better people to walk for than our young people and the young people of this province,” Durocher said.
“All I did was meditate and not eat for 44 days. There were mothers that had to say goodbye to their children and raise their grandchildren I their absence, their strength pushed me forward.”
Read more: Saskatchewan court allows teepee protest camp to stay on legislature lawn
The 24-year-old Métis man fasted until sun down Saturday. He said after the teepee is taken down, he will retreat back to his private life for a while, knowing the message will continue.
“This won’t be the end of Indigenous people coming to the west lawn to voice their grievances in a ceremonial way and in whatever way they choose, protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because that’s their right as citizens,” he said.
Durocher arrived in Regina on July 31, after completing a 635-kilometre walk over 28 days.
“I left Air Ronge Saskatchewan with three friends, and enough money to pay my bills to pay for next four weeks. No teepee no van, just an old tent,” he said.
“Everything I needed was provided for every step of the way because I was walking for the right reasons.”
On the day of his arrival, the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC) and Wascana Centre Authority – which control the park – told Durocher he was in violation of park bylaws.
Read more: Teepees erected in Wascana Park in solidarity with Walking With Our Angels
Durocher had not requested a permit for the site, which is located on Treaty 4 Terriority. On Aug. 5, the Saskatchewan government filed an application in court to order Durocher to leave.
On Friday, Saskatchewan Justice Graeme Mitchell ruled the camp could stay, and that park bylaws needed to be rewritten within the next six months.
“Even when we’re doing things the right way, we’re still treated with injustice, disgusting indifference,” Durocher said.
Mitchell attended Sunday’s event, where he was unexpectedly gifted a Métis sash by a camp supporter.
“For the politicians that are going to scream ‘bias, bias, bias’ because a judge who signed his decision wanted to see freedom of expression and freedom of religion his profession is supposed to be fighting and rooting for, by all means go ahead, but you look all the more ridiculous,” Durocher said.
Sunday’s ceremony also doubled as a community feast, serving soup and bannock. People offered songs and prayer, while families collected the photos of their lost loved ones that have surrounded the Walking With Our Angels camp the last 44 days.
Durocher and a fellow supporter also went to the steps of the legislature for a public hair cutting.
“Many people who are part of our journey and support team cut their hair in braids, and when it was cut we tied it in a noose and hung it on the door handles of the legislative assembly,” he said.
“Saskatchewan has a very dark past of genocidal policies and actions that contribute to the hopelessness of indigenous people and ultimately the deaths contributing to indigenous people.”
Brenda Dubois, who offered daily morning prayers at the camp, said she felt mixed emotions about the demonstration coming to a close Sunday.
Read more: Sask. government meets with suicide prevention advocate protesting at legislature
“With his presence here, you cannot unsee what he brought. You cannot unhear what he brought. You cannot unfeel what he brought. And it was loud and clear,” Dubois said.
That legacy will also live on in La Ronge, where a new non-profit organization, Men of the North, has been gifted the Walking With Our Angels teepee.
Founder Christopher Merasty said the group is for anyone in the community to come together and talk about difficult or stigmatized issues.
“It’s created some very powerful atmospheres in those rooms,” he said. “We’ve got to continue creating that awareness.”
Merasty said the teepee will stand at least once a month in La Ronge, where he will burn a 24-hour sacred fire, to call attention to other issues including domestic violence, sobriety, bullying and missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women.