Indigenous Toronto: Takwaakin in the City

October 2, 2017 | Melanie

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Aanii Toronto,

We are two members of First Story Toronto, and we couldn’t be more excited to be bringing you the first of a new series of seasonal blog posts about Indigenous Toronto – past, present and future – through the Toronto Public Library! Here’s a bit about us:

Sarena JohnsonAaniiboozhoo! I’m Sarena Johnson, a member of Caldwell First Nation with Lenni Lenape, Red River Métis and Celtic ancestry. I grew up in Tkaronto and am currently working on a Master of Education at York University. I am a First Story Indigenous Knowledge Keeper and freelance writer with published art reviews in Urban Native, Muskrat and WIOT magazines. I also volunteer for Walking With Our Sisters, a large scale art installation and ceremony for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit Peoples. WWOS will be in Toronto this October 15-29.

Megan  DaviesWell hello there! My name is Megan Davies. I am a cis-female bisexual settler hailing from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (from Chilliwack, or S’ólh Téméxw the unceded territory of the Stó:lō). I’m also a PhD candidate at York University in Theatre and Performance Studies. I joined First Story Toronto when I first moved to Toronto for graduate school in 2014.




So, to begin our Takwaakin (Anishnaabemowin for autumn) edition of this series, the question is...

"What should Torontonians know about the Indigenous history of this land?"

This is the question that we explore, from differing viewpoints, in this introductory post. First Story Toronto is an Indigenous history group, which began with scholar and activist Rodney Bobiwash at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The group is comprised of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members. We offer walking and bus tours led by First Story guides, and we are also involved in a variety of community projects in and around the Greater Toronto Area. Because there is no single narrative of Indigenous history in Toronto, you can expect that our blog posts will comprise a wide range of topics and themes, and by no means are they a totalizing history. Harkening to the spirit and intent of the treaties, we reflect on the myriad complications of the Toronto’s ‘Dish With One Spoon’ treaty. It is in this spirit, that we asked various members of First Story: What do you want Torontonians to know about the Indigenous history of this land?

Here are some of their responses:

Jon Johnson“Toronto, as we know it today, is deeply inscribed by the 13,000+ years of Indigenous presence on this land. Many of the oldest and most prominent roads, including Yonge St., Davenport Rd., Kingston Rd. and others, were originally established as or inspired by trails and portage routes used by Indigenous peoples millennia before Europeans started visiting the area. Names like Toronto, Etobicoke, Mississauga, Mimico and Ontario are anglicized versions of words from Indigenous languages, each of which recall rich stories of the relationships among different Indigenous nations and the land. The first Europeans to visit the area of Toronto were led by Indigenous guides. Europeans visited and eventually settled in the Toronto area in large part because Indigenous people had already established Toronto as rich place for land-based activities, trade and international relations. Indigenous peoples continued to be important in the establishment of the settlement of York and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, although those contributions are not well-acknowledged. Today there are over 200,000 Indigenous people in Toronto who continue to contribute in myriad ways to life in the city. Knowing these stories can help Torontonians to relearn their responsibilities and relations with this land and Indigenous peoples.”
- Jon Johnson

“Urban Indigenous folks express themselves and their relationships to lands in a myriad of ways, reflecting this rich history, present and futures. For instance, the mural artwork created by Indigenous artists reflects a rematriative mapping of Indigenous presence and futurities on Tkaronto lands. Queer, 2-spirit and women are at the frontline of activism within Tkaronto, producing texts that challenge settler colonial mappings. Organizations such as the Native Youth Sexual Health Network are activating important processes of being in consensual relationships with the lands and each other. Valuing Indigenous lands and lives is central to being accountable to Indigenous leadership, Indigenous practices and Indigenous lives.”
Karyn Recollet

“Everywhere you stand in Toronto, you are standing on thousands and thousands of years of First Nations ancestry. The Indigenous relationship to the land has been passed down in oral tradition despite colonization and we should actively hear and respect these stories as settlers and immigrants. Perhaps when we open our hearts and minds to Indigenous history we will be able to appreciate the contemporary vitality and contributions of First Nations people and truly embrace diversity.”
Monica Bodirsky

Jill CarterTakwaakin (autumn) is almost upon us. Harvest time is coming, and soon also, the time to briefly cease our labors and to give thanks for the bounty of the earth that will sustain us through the five moons of biboon (winter).

Takwaakin, that time of harvest, is a time of preparation. The gathering, drying, parching, salting, seasoning, smoking, canning and storing of earth’s fruits prepares us physically. In this time, scholars of all ages gather their resources and mentally prepare themselves to plunge headlong into a new season of academic challenge and intellectual development. In the ceremonial circle, we find ourselves facing westward, and those of us who have reached the autumn of our lives are called to avail ourselves of the opportunity to ready ourselves spiritually for the conclusion of our journey in this life.

How might settler-Canadians who now occupy these territories – still stewarded by the Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg – utilize this precious season of preparation to ready themselves to enter into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with those Indigenous stewards and with the biota that sustains us all?

Outside a formal course of study, there are many resources to be gathered and many ways to prepare a path that leads to greater understanding and rapprochement between our peoples. The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) is an excellent place to start, as is Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative and his The Inconvenient Indian, all of which are available through the Toronto Public Library. Further Indigenous-authored writings to increase understanding and to nourish the spirit may be easily identified and accessed by consulting with your local branch staff or by contacting Indigenous scholars at local colleges and universities.

Walking the streets and green places of Tkaronto during an Indigenous history tour and/or visiting an Indigenous-curated exhibition and/or learning an Indigenous language (through the free classes offered by the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, or by borrowing Indigenous language learning materials through TPL) are key, complementary investments of time and effort that will increase understanding and foster relationships built on the cornerstones of mutual respect and reciprocity.

The equinox approaches; the season of preparation is underway. We at First Story Toronto wish you a bountiful harvest.”
Jill Carter

 Takwaakin (autumn) events at Toronto Public Library:

Oct. 3-Dec. 22. Aabiziingwashi (#WideAwake) Community Film Screenings. Various branch locations. Check branch listings for screening times.

Oct. 4, 2-2:45 p.m. I Am Not a Number with Jenny Kay Dupuis. Spadina Road Branch.

Oct. 5-Dec. 21, 6-8 p.m. Indigenous Canada Learning Circle. Toronto Reference Library.

Oct. 10-16, One Book: Unsettling Canada. Various branch locations. Check branch listings for specific times.

Oct. 13-14, 1-10 p.m. Indigenous Writers’ Gathering. Toronto Reference Library & Glad Day Bookstore

Oct. 18, 7-8 p.m. Resist 150 Panel (moderated by Muskrat Magazine editor Rebeka Tabobondung). Toronto Reference Library.

Oct. 19, 7-8 p.m. Canada 250 with Maurice Switzer (author of We Are All Treaty People). Spadina Road Branch.

Oct. 23, 7-8 p.m. Eating Words with Wet'suwet'en chef and author Andrew George. Palmerston Branch

Oct. 25, 4:30-6:30 p.m. The Moccasin Project. Cedarbrae Branch.

Oct. 26, 7-8 p.m. Seven Fallen Feathers with Tanya Talaga. Toronto Reference Library.

Takwaakin (autumn) events around Toronto:

Now until Nov. 19. Anishinaabeg Art and Power exhibit. The ROM.

Oct. 15-29. Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS). MMIWG2S Ceremony. Aboriginal Education Centre.

Oct. 18-22. ImagineNative Film Festival. Various Locations.

Nov. 2-12. Backbone. Red Sky Performance (Dance). Canadian Stage.

Nov. 15-25. Weesageechak Begins to Dance: Indigenous Performance Festival. Native Earth Performing Arts. Daniel Spectrum Building.

For more information about First Story Toronto events and tours, check us out on Facebook @FirstStoryToronto or send us an email:


You probably noticed by the in-depth responses above and the many fantastic events listed here, that there is a lot to talk about and experience when it comes to Toronto’s vibrant Indigenous community. And this is just an introduction. Please join the conversation by commenting below.

What do you want to know about the Indigenous history of Tkaronto? How do you incorporate your traditional cultural activities into city life? Did you attend any of these events, and if so, what questions and thoughts did the events leave you with? We look forward to reading your comments, and to returning with our second blog post in Biboon (winter), after Takwaakin (autumn) has passed.  

Chii Miigwetch (Thank you very much),

Sarena and Megan