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Willow River Centre targeted by vandalism

A new queer and Indigenous-led centre in Kitchener has been targeted by vandalism, less than two weeks before it's set to open to the public.

Willow River Centre co-directors, Amy Smoke and Bangishimo, were told about messages scrawled on their building on Sunday night.

Some of the messages, which are written in chalk, mention the two founders by name, reference their Indigenous identity and reference homophobic tropes.

One message reads “embrace your Scottish heritage, Amy.” Another says Land Back Camp “took [money] from white guilt.”

“There’s still so much hate going on in this community,” Bangishimo said Monday. “The hate has got to stop.”

A pile of rocks was also placed in front of the centre’s door. Bangishimo and Smoke believed they came from their ceremonial space at Victoria Park, also known as Willow River Park.

The co-directors say they’ve been targeted before and believe they know who vandalized their building.

Graffiti is seen scrawled on the Willow River Centre in Kitchener on Sept. 25, 2023. (Dave Pettitt/CTV Kitchener)

“People have got to start standing up and speaking out. When we are not in the rooms, we need you to stand up for us,” Bangishimo said. “These hate attacks are just going to keep escalating and we need our allies to stand beside us.”

Willow River Centre filed a police report Sunday night and are hoping to press charges. Waterloo regional police say the incident is under investigation.

The co-directors of Willow River Centre said they expected to be targeted by hate at some point, but didn’t expect it to happen before they opened.

“Whatever they need to say to attack us, someone will. Someone will come up with something,” co-director Amy Smoke said.

“This is not a space for hate. This is a space for inclusion and particularly for urban Indigenous youth.”

"Embrace your Scottish heritage Amy" reads on a message left on the building. (Stefanie Davis/CTV Kitchener)

In a press release, Waterloo regional police asked anyone with any information on the incident to contact them or Crime Stoppers.

“The investigation is ongoing by officers from WRPS’ Neighbourhood Policing North Division and support by the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Unit,” police said.

This incident is not deterring the co-directors from continuing to work towards an open house that will be taking place at the centre on Saturday, Oct. 7.

“With all of the things going on – the rallies, the protests, the counter protests – it’s mounting,” Smoke said.

“We’re very well aware of what’s happening in our community. We just want our youth to know that this is a safe space and it is a braver space than out there.” Top Stories

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