Defunding police is the only way to protect Black and Indigenous communities, panel hears

Levi Carroll, an ex-slave from the southern U.S., with his family in front of their log home near Agnes Street in Kitchener around 1860. The log home, once Waterloo County's first school house, was later moved to Waterloo Park where it still stands today.

WATERLOO REGION — To comprehend what is going on today means understanding Canada’s entrenched history of erasing Indigenous peoples and anti-Black violence, a panel heard Thursday.

At the virtual panel discussion on anti-racism and changing current systems, speakers addressed Canada’s legacy of trauma and hurt inflicted on Indigenous and Black peoples.

“That start of Canada with trafficking and enslavement of Africans and clearing Indigenous people from their territories so the land could be enclosed within a fort and taken for profit tells a lot about what is going on with us today,” said panellist Ruth Cameron, executive director of The AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area.

Panellist Ciann Wilson, assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, agreed with Cameron that Canada was built on enslavement and genocide, clearing the land of its original inhabitants for exploitation and profit, and financed through proceeds from the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“Erasure is part of the whitewashing of history,” said Wilson. “We need to acknowledge that bloodshed and that really vicious and violent history.”

The violence is still faced by the two groups, she said.

Cameron and Wilson were one of six speakers at the discussion, which was organized by the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation and attracted more than 300 remote attendees.

There is a long history of Black people in Waterloo, particularly the settlement of Queen’s Bush in the 1850s, but it is often erased in the retelling, said panellist Fitsum Areguy, co-founder of Textile Literature.

“We talk about Mennonite settlement histories, German histories. We do not talk enough about deep Indigenous histories. We do not talk about Black histories here,” he said.

Lori Campbell, director of the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre at the University of Waterloo, said the police forces were created in Canada to “clear the plains of Indigenous peoples.

“That’s how we got locked up on reservations,” she said. “The police force was against Indigenous peoples. The service is for the settlers and the colonizers.”

Campbell said the police “have never protected us.” Police “hunted us, confined us and dragged us back to the reserves.”

Campbell said Indigenous people teach their children how not to get killed by police. The narrative is different for white settler Canadians and what they teach their children about police, she said.

The first police in the U.S. were started to “control and surveil enslaved African people and haul them back to their masters if they sought freedom,” said Wilson.

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