By Mike Archer. The weathered First Nations TeePee which marks the site of what is, so far, the 2nd longest continuous protest camp in BC history is showing signs of the beating it has taken from the elements over the last year.
Cover photo by Bas Stevens
With the high winds on Wednesday and Thursday the TeePee was badly damaged as residents of the camp worked feverishly to keep the structure together.
Calvin Pete, shaman of the TeePee worked through the night Wednesday to keep the structural integrity together but the TeePee will need a great deal of work to repair.
Barry Shantz of the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug Wars Survivors spent most of Thursday trying to get materials to repair the structure but said the damage is severe because the fabric of the structure has been damaged by the elements.
“This has been a very long protest and the tarp which makes up the TeePee has been through a lot. We’re hoping people can perhaps find in their hearts to help Calvin and the guys out with tarp, sewing, materials, rope … anything that will help maintain the structural integrity,” says Shantz.
Shantz said that DWS director Nick Zurowski, who grew up right across the street from the TeePee is making every effort to get some tarp donated but Shantz is concerned the whole TeePee may need to be replaced.
“The City of Abbotsford is making every effort to drag our court cases through until next spring, after the municipal election, forcing these guys to live another winter on the streets. If they’re trying to break our will they don’t know Calvin. They don’t know any of us,’ he says.
The protest originally began in Jubilee Park on August 31 of 2013 as a temporary protest to mark International Overdose Day. The DWS is in court with the City of Abbotsford as a result of damages being sought as a result of Mayor Banman’s use of chicken feces to disperse and displace homeless men and women who were camped in the woods across from the Salvation Army last June.
The Abbotsford Chicken Manure Incident, originally reported on Abbotsford Today, a story which was picked by the BBC, CNN and published around the world, became the flash point for a crisis which had been simmering for years.
The law suits challenge the City of Abbotsford’s three Anti Homeless bylaws and, Pivot Legal Society, which is acting on behalf of members of the DWS in the law suits and two human rights complaints, is arguing that, just like Abbotsford’s illegal Anti Harm Reduction Bylaw, the Anti Homeless Bylaws discriminate against the most marginalized citizens in the community due to their financial circumstances and issues like drug addiction, alcohol dependence and mental illness which are beyond their control.
The Native Connection
On October 20, 2013, the DWS began their current protest which has lasted more than ten months. After being evicted from Jubilee Park on Christmas Eve after erecting a mammoth wooden structure to protect themselves against the elements, the DWS protest moved down to City property on Gladys Avenue opposite the MCC.
Calling itself the ‘MCC Dignity Village’ the camp, which has centered around the traditional native TeePee, has lasted, undisturbed, since the protesters moved there upon being evicted from Jubilee Park on Christmas Eve.
The protesters in MCC Dignity Village have taken strength from the native protesters in Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and the Vancouver protesters are said to be in awe of Calvin Pete and his followers who has not only led his fellow protesters through some of the toughest conditions imaginable, and stood tall against every provocation, eviction notice and the disappearance of friends an allies who were evacuated, once again, from the Happy Tree opposite the Sally Ann on July 31st while most people were on holidays or out of town for the summer long weekend.
It has not escaped many across the province that the DWS TeePee has deep significance for First Nations people whose land was taken from them in order to build Abbotsford. Natives have begun the process of seeking redress for what they consider the theft by the BC government of Sumas Lake to make way for Mennonite immigrants, some of whom made enough money and developed deep enough attachments to the cheap land they bought that their descendants make up the much of the current political, economic, and religious power structure of Abbotsford.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the gigantic MCC building being built across the street from the MCC Dignity Village protest camp which is scheduled to hold its grand opening just before the municipal election.
Plea For Support
Calvin Pete and the protesters have put out a plea for support from their First Nations brothers and sisters across BC and Western Canada for help in restoring and repairing their symbolic TeePee.
“We have been taking spiritual strength from you for these many months and we thank you for strength. If you can help us rebuild our home we will be eternally grateful,” says Pete.
There was no sign, as of 11:30 Friday morning of the port-a-potties which were promised by Paul MacLeod (a.k.a. Porta-Pottie-Paul) Chair of the Abbotsford Dignitarian Society, and past-president of the ADBA, after the porta-potties which he and the owner of the property made available for the proposed Valley Road housing project were paying for, were removed two weeks ago.
(MacLeod earned the moniker ‘Porta-Pottie-Paul when he supplied and paid for the porta-potties made available to the protesters during the vigil in Jubilee Park)
The City of Abbotsford continues to fight the protesters in court and is making every effort to drag the legal battle out through the winter.
“I’m not sure if they think they can break us or whether this is just another chapter in the City’s war on the homeless if they think we’re going anywhere before the MCC’s big house warming party … they ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” says Barry Shantz.
Anyone who can help is urged to get in touch with the Barry Shantz of the DWS through a confidential email to this website.