The Soaring Eagle Camp: Justice for Indigenous Youth
This past February was a tough month for Indigenous Canada as two people charged with murdering two Indigenous youth – Tina Fontaine and Colten Boushie – were acquitted of any murder charges, including manslaughter. The aftermath unveiled the ugly racists notions and fears that mainstream Canadian society holds onto about Indigenous people, from people justifying the death of Colten Boushie, to the perceived deafening silence by many non-Indigenous peoples to demonstrate solidarity in voicing outrage over a society and justice system that targets and fails Indigenous youth.
Many people were left wondering what to do next and how can we create positive change for the future generations of Indigenous youth so that this never happens again? In the midst of the many rallies and marches, Koryn John (Ojibwe) organized The Soaring Eagles Camp occupation beside Old City Hall in Toronto as a response to the verdicts and to continue the rally for justice for Tina and Colten. We sat down with Koryn to talk about her work with Soaring Eagle Camp and her hopes for the future of Indigenous youth and the seven generations ahead of all of us.
MM: After all that has happened with Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine’s cases and all the rallies, what inspired you to participate in this nation-wide action?
KJ: I was talking to a friend of mine about what we could do. We knew we had to do something. I was thinking of doing a walk from Toronto to the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and was rounding people up. As I was just in the talks of doing that, I found out that Darla Contois had started Soaring Eagle Camp in Winnipeg outside the Manitoba Legislature. And another man, Garret Smith, had started a camp in Calgary. I asked him what I could do in Toronto to support them and he told me to open up a camp. I agreed. It took me five days to plan it, in that time Rachel Dubois opened up a camp in Regina. Last Sunday we came here and set up. I’ve never done anything like this or organize anything like this.
MM: Are there any kinds of specific actions you would like people in mainstream society to take in their lives to fight the systemic racism that leads to violence against Indigenous youth?
KJ: More education for sure. When people come here [the camp] there is a lot of ignorance or they don’t know things. They ask questions and then don’t believe that things like residentials schools were recent. We had to explain to one man something last night and he didn’t believe us; his reaction was like; well I’ll have to do my research.
We would also like to see people pressure institutions for accountability whether it’s child welfare, the justice system, or the government about how Indigenous youth are treated, admitting wrongs, and trying to right them. Especially because there is no healing for families if there is no admitting to what’s wrong with [these systems].
MM: What are your thoughts on the systemic racism in the justice system and how it affected the Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine cases?
KJ: What’s happening now in our generation makes sense. If you look back at what’s been happening in previous generations with the 60’s Scoop, residential schools, and all the trauma our people have been through with all of the injustices, including child welfare. This is just a manifestation of all of that. We are starting to make changes, I don’t think it’s going to happen right away, it may not be in my lifetime, or my daughter’s lifetime, but I think we will slowly move and solve each problem. Maybe within my granddaughter’s lifetime we will see some changes. It’s about the Seven Generations Teachings- what can we do now to make things easier for our next generation?
MM: How would you like to see people support Indigenous youth for a better future?
KJ: I would like to see a lot more resources and help – even from allies. A lot of people don’t want to support Indigenous youth because there are so many stereotypes like: they don’t care or they drink too much. With our youth there is a lot of trauma, addictions and suicide.
If there are more resources, help and spaces that can be open that would really help. Having open and safe spaces like the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto or youth drop-ins; youth also need more availability for ceremonies and time to heal.
MM: Do you have any advice for Indigenous youth/people struggling with the aftermath with these verdicts and the racism that followed afterwards?
KJ: What really helped me was just doing something about it. When I was at home planning this and learning on the Internet about the Calgary and Winnipeg’s camp I felt a lot of anxiety. I felt that here I am sitting on my phone looking at what’s happening and that I need to do something physically about it. When day one of this started I was ready and did so much healing, a lot of us have done so much healing since then. If any youth are having troubles, just reach out and talk to someone, go to a centre. Anyone can reach out to me and everyone is welcome here.
Koryn John is Ojibwe (Bear Clan) from Thunder Bay now living in Tkaronto.
Image source: Erica Commanda