Vandalism Strikes Queer and Indigenous-led Willow River Centre Days Before Opening


The Willow River Centre in Kitchener, a queer and Indigenous-led initiative, has been the object of damaging vandalism, mere days away from its public opening.

Amy Smoke and Bangishimo, the esteemed co-directors of Willow River Centre, were alerted to malicious messages scribbled on their establishment on Sunday evening. The written messages, scrawled crudely in chalk, directly named the two founders and made derogatory remarks about both their Indigenous heritage and their sexual orientation.

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A disturbing message urging Amy Smoke to “embrace your Scottish heritage” was one of those reported, along with a deriding statement suggesting that Land Back Camp had profited from ‘white guilt’. Bangishimo wasn’t shy to express his feelings about the disheartening incident. “There’s still so much hate going on in this community,” Bangishimo remarked on Monday. “The hate has got to stop.”

In addition, the culprits left a heap of rocks arranged to block the centre’s entrance. Bangishimo and Smoke suspect these rocks to be from their ritual space at Victoria Park, or Willow River Park as it’s more commonly known.

With stoic resiliency, the co-directors admitted they, regrettably, anticipated being targeted with such hate crimes, ensuring they were prepared for such incidents and even going as far as claiming to know the identities of the perpetrators behind this act of vandalism.

Bangishimo insisted, “People have got to start standing up and speaking out.” He urged allies of their cause to support them in any capacity possible, foreseeing a potential increase in such hate-driven events.

Following the incident, Willow River Centre meticulously filed a police report on Sunday night and intend to see justice served by pressing charges. The regional police of Waterloo have affirmed the incident is undergoing an investigation process.

One of the co-directors, Amy Smoke, remarked: “This is not a space for hate. This is a space for inclusion and particularly for urban Indigenous youth.” She added that these acts would not deter them from their mission or their upcoming open house on October 7.

Smoke also noted, “With all of the things going on – the rallies, the protests, the counter protests – it’s mounting. However, we want our youth to know that this is a safe space, a braver space than out there.”

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