On Saturday September 29th, the community that has been marching and fighting alongside the Namegans homeless in Saanich and Langford, just outside Victoria BC, marched again to break a police blockade and support their friends against a hostile government and the anti-homeless mob. The Volcano is publishing two eye-witness testimonies of this most recent fightback moment, as well as a brief attempt to outline all that has happened in the struggle to resist the NDP’s effort to displace and break up the Namegans camps.
Break the blockade! Opposing the NDP’s police harassment of the Namegans homeless
The two week course followed by the Namegans homeless is a tedious chase story that reads like the script of a bad war movie. After Camp Namegans was broken up by a court order on September 14th, we managed to march to a new site just blocks away on Provincial land. The resulting Namegans Nation tent city was smashed by the NDP government’s police without a court order, just four days later on Tuesday September 18th. Chased from park to park by a horde of police, the beleaguered Namegans homeless decided to retreat. We found funding and moved to a paid-for campsite at Goldstream Provincial Park half an hour out of town.
But rather than treat the Namegans campers as any other camper, the Ministers of Parks and Housing closed the campground and stationed 24-hour guards at the gate, erecting a blockade against support and community access to the Namegans campers. These guards transformed the Provincial campground into an open air homeless shelter – a prison without walls, roof, or beds. Only workers from pre-approved agencies could access the NDP’s prison camp; not even family members were permitted to visit. And then, without warning, on Friday September 28th, Selena Robinson, the Minister of Housing, announced that the Namegans campers had to be gone by Tuesday October 2nd. They were being evicted without violating the conditions of the campground, and without anywhere to go except to sleep night-by-night in an emergency shelter or night-by-night in approved parks.
We believe that the NDP government threw up a blockade around Goldstream campground in order isolate homeless people from their community. The NDP’s open air homeless prison spatially separated the Namegans homeless from the community that had marched with them against police repression, and the political organizers who helped coordinate meetings, discussions, and foster analysis and action that made it possible to defend and maintain the tent city. But spatial separation and undermining organizing was only one aspect of the harms that Premier Horgan and Ministers Eby and Robinson were enacting against the Namegans homeless.
Namegans means We Are One
The political message the NDP sent by isolating the Namegans homeless was that homeless people are not part of our communities. By closing the campground to regular campers when Namegans set up tents, the NDP sent the message that homeless people are a contagion; that the government must protect the public from the dangers inherent to homeless people. By installing 24-hour guards at the gate of Goldstream and blocking visits from community, family, and friends, the NDP sent the message that homeless people are to blame for their homelessness, and that they can and should be punished in isolation. By blocking organizers meeting with their comrades in the camp, the NDP sent the message that homeless people are not political subjects, that their organizing is not legitimate, that homeless people need treatment as patients, not to liberate themselves from the crushing social and historical conditions that oppress them.
The NDP government’s narrative is that homeless people are not part of working class and Indigenous communities; that homelessness is pathological, not social; treatable by doctors or punished by police and prisons, not solved through redistributive housing programs. The march to break the blockade of the Namegans campers responded to the NDP narrative and said: no. Homeless people are our people; homeless people are workers who have been used up and discarded by a profit-driven economic system; homeless people are Indigenous peoples dispossessed of their lands and families and economies and thrown into the streets by Canada’s colonial machinery; homeless people are women who could no longer bear staying in an abusive home and could not afford to pay rent alone; homeless people are queer and trans youth who are fleeing violence in the place they were born.
It is this context of persistent government harassment and police containment, facing vigilante danger, that the march to “break the blockade” was organized. The march was unsuccessful in the sense that it failed to end the police repression of the Namegans homeless, or even stop the NDP government from displacing the homeless in Saanich a third time in two weeks. The Namegans homeless were in fact displaced to parks, a night-by-night shelter, and friends’ yards and couches. But, as accounted by two eye-witnesses, the march to break the blockade marks the resilience of the movement against displacement, and the determination of the Namegans homeless to never give up. Camp Namegans was given its name by Eli Cranmer who is a language keeper for the ‘Namgis nation. The collective actions to defend those displaced from Camp Namegans continue in the direction of Eli’s aspirations for the camp. Although the Namegans campsites have been displaced, the greatest achievement of the movement that remains is the practice of its name: we are one.
These stories about the march to break the blockade of Namegans help explain the importance and vitality of this movement. ~ The Volcano editors
“We weren’t sure if we were gonna storm the gate”: A report from the march to break the blockade of the Namegans campers
Yesterday, we held a rally to denounce the NDP’s war on the poor. In the last month, this government has led attacks on multiple fronts with multiple ministries to break the community power and spirit of Namegans homeless. The NDP has dragged homeless people into court, contained them in cages, raided their homes, isolated and excluded, promoted bigotry and anti-homeless hate, and sent a clear message that homeless, Indigenous and working class people are not part of the public.
It was a high energy rally and people were fired up. The speakers were great. There was lots of media there, but it didn’t feel like we were doing this for the media. We denounced the war on the poor while also celebrating the community spirit of Namegans that would not be broken. We vowed to continue the fight. I got really emotional at one point and everyone came around and we had a group hug while chanting, ”the people united will never be defeated!” It was really powerful and lovely. I also watched Parks people nodding their heads as we were making connections about the housing crisis and a state that has failed its people. And neighbors who showed up to protest us were silent. They couldn’t say anything to the messages we were giving.
We weren’t sure if we were gonna storm the gate. There were about 10 cops there and 10 park rangers. But, after Bobby spoke we did a “what the fuck” chant, and things were feeling right. So I took the mic from him and said that we were gonna break the blockade. We went up and around and under the gates past the Parks and cops who were telling us to stop. And we marched through the park. We had elders with disabilities and so we didn’t go super far. We walked to a bridge and did another little rally. It was powerful. Everyone was beaming. I feel like everyone went back to their communities and told stories about how they broke the law and how good it felt.
Some people from the camp will be taking the shelter mats at the Native Friendship Centre for the offer of storage and some respite, and to get out of the elements before winter. Others will be moving to set up tents for a few weeks on property owned by a supporter of the camp. It’s a bit out of town, but we will be able to arrange rides for people because of all the support that people have garnered over the last little while. The camp has been displaced, that’s true, but it does not feel defeated. We are feeling strong and hopeful.
The NDP is waging war on poor Indigenous people
Kudos and gratitude to the 75 frontline homeless activists and their supporters who defiantly marched past a locked gate staffed 24-7 by parks rangers and RCMP at Goldstream Park campground yesterday. I was glad to be part of a vibrant rally celebrating the strength and resiliency of the local Indigenous-led tent city movement that has maintained a steady communal presence on the land at public park sites over the last year. Camp Namegans has provided a safe, inclusive and supportive space for the homeless who refuse to be forgotten. It has demanded long-overdue government action to provide affordable, dignified and stable housing options for Victoria’s growing homeless community.
The provincial Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman ordered that the park be under closure in knee-jerk response to a couple of dozen homeless people forcibly displaced from three public parks in Saanich, who sought rest and refuge in paid camping on the outskirts of town. Campers already using the site were ordered to leave and after a strong public backlash criticizing the government for blatant discrimination against the homeless campers, they were “allowed” to stay without a deadline.
However, the campground gate remained locked and anyone going in was required to provide ID and be approved by the parks workers under the rationale of protecting campers from irate neighbours, portrayed as “violent vigilantes,” and neighbours and families from the campers, cast as “drug users and criminals” and unfairly profiled as a threat to the campground itself.
A group of Pauquachin women, whose niece is in the camp, were told – on their own unceded W’SANEC territory – that they could not bring food and cultural support to the campers. The parks workers even refused to deliver the soup and fry bread for them.
Minister Heyman’s order to lock the gate at Goldstream and deploy around-the-clock police and parks workers to contain, monitor and quarantine a small group of homeless campers directly contributes to the criminalization of homelessness that unjustly places the blame for poverty on the shoulders of the poor. In reality, more and more people are falling through the widening cracks as the result of an extremely prohibitive housing market and the impacts of twenty-five years of neoliberal cuts to social services. When police and politicians stigmatize homeless and working class people, they sow seeds of mistrust, fear and even hate, reinforce negative stereotypes, and stand in the way of compassionate dialogue and grassroots approaches to the homeless crisis.
The NDP government needs to accept responsibility for perpetuating the ongoing class war on the poor and against Indigenous people, who make up one-third of the local homeless population. As the country collectively remembers the intergenerational legacy of trauma from the horrors of Canada’s residential school system at September 30th’s Orange Shirt Day, let us remember how many of those scars present lasting challenges to Indigenous homeless people, who should not be forced by government negligence and a capitalist housing market to endure a life without the basic human necessity of a roof over their heads.