The Saskatchewan Legislature sits on the edge of the sprawling and picturesque Wascana Park in Regina. Directly across from the Legislative grounds, on park property, sits a small encampment of tents, a teepee and a cluster of signs calling for justice.
Prescott Demas, the caretaker of the camp, has kept a sacred fire burning in the teepee for 92 days now. The peaceful protest began after the acquittals of Gerald Stanley for the murder of 22 year old Colten Boushie, and Raymond Cormier for the murder of 15 year old Tina Fontaine, but it has grown into a broader quest for justice and respect.
There was one name featured on the signs that I did not recognize: Haven Dubois. Prescott explained that Haven, a strong swimmer, was only 14 years old when he turned up dead in a couple feet of water. There were marks on his head and reports of four kids in the vicinity, but the death was ruled an accidental drowning. The incident occurred two years ago, and Haven’s mother, Richelle, has been fighting to have the case reopened ever since.
It’s part of what Prescott and others believe is a pattern of neglect and indifference towards First Nations people in Canada. That mistreatment extends to their struggles with heavy-handed social services agencies. Prescott’s own children were removed from his custody despite his compliance with all of the agency’s instructions and requests, as he tells it. There is certainly no shortage of other stories like his.
The purpose of the encampment in Wascana Park is not to reverse the acquittals of Stanley and Cormier — Prescott knows, this not possible — but to draw attention to the larger issues affecting his people and begin a dialog with the government to address those. The provincial government, though, does not seem interested in talking.
“We could have been gone after day one” Prescott says, if the Minister of Social Services and other representatives of the government were willing to come out listen to them, but their “constant refusal” to meet has kept the protest alive for three months now.
It appeared that such a dialog was finally about to take place. Government officials came by the camp a week ago to take some photos and arrange a meeting for May 29th. This meeting was to include speakers from both sides. The government was to provide food and a Chief close to the Dubois family brought sweet grass and tobacco for the occasion.
“They just didn’t come out” Prescott says, “but they already have their picture. They already have their photo of them actually coming out here.”
“And now they’re going to push for an order to have us removed.”
An eviction notice was presented to the group when they first set up 92 days ago, but the optics of removing the camp with the Boushie verdict still fresh on the minds of residents would have been poor. Prescott now thinks his time may be running out.
He is right in at least one respect: today is the the final day of the Saskatchewan Legislature’s spring session. Tomorrow, the MLAs and government officials will begin their summer break, and opportunities for meaningful dialog will be hard to come by.
Prescott, meanwhile, will continue to keep the sacred fire burning.