An Indigenous rights group is hoping to grab the attention of Orillia residents by holding a peaceful protest amongst the Canada Day celebrations at Couchiching Beach Park.

The group is protesting the return of the Samuel De Champlain monument which once stood on a pedestal in the park. It was temporarily removed in 2017 by Parks Canada to improve structural issues and is scheduled to return soon. One of the protest organizers, Tori Cress says, “That monument completely erases the indigenous population whose land that we are all on.”

She adds that we all share this treaty land, and the rules are not being respected.

“It had Wendat people worshiping [Champlin] in a worship position, like bringing Christianity and colonization was such a good thing for us, because it’s not.” Orillia city council voted last week to return the controversial monument, in its original form, to Couchiching Beach Park.

“We are all under treaty obligations that aren’t being upheld currently and that narrative that ‘all is well’ in Canada is not exactly the same way we feel.”

Mayor Steve Clarke has previously told CTV News he will work with the Chippewas of Rama First Nation and Huron-Wendat Nation to explore strategies that help reflect the complete, contextual history of Samuel De Champlain and his encounters with the indigenous people of the region.

“We don’t want these monuments, you know. We can work together, but that means that we get an equal voice at the table of what it looks like together,” Cress added.

Krystal Brooks, another protest organizer, shared her story of abuse through the foster care system and said she wants the public to know how colonization has impacted her. Protestors, including Cress and Brooks sat peacefully outside of the construction gate where the empty monument base still sits inside. The group sang songs and beat traditional drums while tying ribbons to the construction gate.

“[The ribbons] they’re representing our voices, and our voices are saying no to this monument,” Brooks said. Adding that fighting for her rights has been a considerable part of her healing.

A sign posted on the construction gate by the protest group reads “Let’s be honest, respectful, fair... Champlain was not a hero to the people who lived here first. Let’s show that we have gained some maturity in the past century.”

The Champlain monument was supposed to be returned to Couchiching Beach Park the following summer, but Parks Canada asked the city to come up with a plan for the statue and the land surrounding it after concerns were raised about the monuments representation of Indigenous people.

The final decision lies with Parks Canada.