A painful anniversary is approaching for Soolee Papequash.
On July 18 it will have been three years since her son Brandon died. She is reminded of him as she sits with other parents — many who have experienced their own form of loss — at the Justice for our Stolen Children camp set up in Regina across from the Saskatchewan Legislature.
"I don't want to be at home, so I come here for my comfort zone," she said. Her son died in what Papequash said was labelled an accidental overdose.
We're all going through the same hurt, the same pain. Wanting the same answers. Now I feel that I'm not alone.- Soolee Papequash
Papequash said she doesn't believe that explanation, particularly because there were several people in the home when it happened and the circumstances don't seem to add up.
"The autopsy report, I didn't receive for almost eight-and-a-half months later, and it was only a summary," she said, adding this did not provide the explanation she desperately searched for.
"It's a nightmare because I can't lay my son to rest in my heart. There's so many unanswered questions."
When painful memories resurface, Papequash leans on the other grieving women at the camp.
"We're all going through the same hurt, the same pain. Wanting the same answers. Now I feel that I'm not alone."
Papequash said there have been some hurtful moments.
She remembered how a passerby yelled in the direction of the camp: "go home and look after your children."
"I would — but he's dead. I can't go home and look after him," she said. "That's why I'm here."
Papequash said the camp has become a place of healing and community. She lives on the Piapot First Nation and first became involved with the camp by periodically dropping off food.
But on the day officials came to remove the teepee, she was arrested. Since then she has been at the camp every moment she's not at work.
"I don't want to be traded in for a beer garden," she said. "I want answers."
The child who is learning
Snow still covered the grass when Tanson Pitawanakwat-Acoose first visited the camp, just days after it sprung up.
The 11-year-old went with his mom Robyn Pitawanakwat, who is the spokesperson for Colonialism No More.
Pitawanakwat-Acoose said he wondered how long it would stay up. To see it standing today, with more teepees, is "amazing."
The most special part for him is the sacred fire.
"It's been burning for just as long as the camp's been here," he said.
"One time, I kind of stayed up with the fire. I didn't stay up the entire night and surprisingly even though I only got four of sleep those four hours actually felt really good."
Pitawanakwat-Acoose acknowledged that he has much to learn at his age.
"There's quite a bit of stuff that I don't understand," he said.
"I hope that justice is brought to all those parents who lost their children and the children, and all those people who feel pain."
The descendent of settlers
Shannon Corkery grew up in the northwestern suburbs of Regina.
She said she began paying attention to Indigenous issues after getting into meditation. She started to observe her thought patterns.
"I saw a lot of racism, or when I would encounter people, a lot of stereotypes coming up in my mind."
She became curious about internalized racism and systemic racism.
Corkery said it's been a learning process, involving responsibility as well as self-forgiveness.
She's been part of the camp since the first day.
"It's been really humbling in terms of how I've been embraced by the community "
She recalled a special moment in which Debbie Baptiste gifted campers with blankets and tobacco.
There was prayers, drumming and a round dance that was followed by rain and then a rainbow.
"It's kind of in those moments, it's like everything was worth it."
Chad Pelletier first visited the camp when the government issued its eviction notice.
He returned once again when more teepees started going up and has been there since.
"It's why I came was for the teepees and the fire and the medicines," he said.
"The respect and the honour. It teaches us how to be in life."
Pelletier said his Thursday night was peaceful as he watched over the sacred fire — what he called the heart of the movement.
"I am a helper," he said. Pelletier has three sons, one of whom graduated last night in Saskatoon.
He said he hopes the love showed at the camp will be a lesson for his children.
"I really like the unity it brings."