Part of the mural recently completed by Indigenous artists on The Edwin Hotel on Queen Street East, Toronto. Photo by Barb Nahwegahbow

By Rick Garrick

An Indigenous wall mural acknowledging the land, the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples and the journey from pre-colonial times to now will be celebrated in Toronto on Aug. 27.

“When we were making this work, we really considered the issues that are happening now, like the water crisis and the suicide crisis,” says Chief Lady Bird, a Chippewas of Rama citizen and one of the three Indigenous artists who created the Tkaranto Past/Tkaranto Future (Toronto Past/Toronto Future) mural. “When we think about things that are happening now, we want to make art that counters that in a healthy way, so we like to paint really healthy and spiritual imagery that sort of can bring healing to the community.”

The mural includes imagery created by youth who worked with traditional knowledge keeper Philip Cote to conceptualize the mural design for the project, which was supported by the Riverside Business Improvement Association in Toronto.

“As a historic and community-oriented district, the Riverside BIA is helping uncover and celebrate Indigenous heritage and culture in Tkaranto,” says Riverside BIA Chair Mitch Korman. “We are honoured to have a mural that connects to the Indigenous communities in Toronto.”

The mural was completed by Bird, lead artist Odinamaad and Dave Monday Oguorie on July 20 on the west and south walls of the Woodgreen Services building at 650 Queen Street East, which is just east of the Don River.

“This mural integrates traditional practices of this area, such as the use of fish racks, star knowledge and matriarchal family structures,” Odinamaad says. “By sharing this imagery with the people of Toronto, we are all able to keep the true history of Canada alive and acknowledge the enduring Indigenous presence on this land.”

Bird adds that Thunderbirds and floral designs were also incorporated into the mural.

“There is a mother and a child as well,” Bird says. “That talks about the seven generations teaching and how we have to be good ancestors now and think about what we are doing and how that is going to affect our children in the future.”

Barbra Nahwegahbow, a jewellery designer, journalist and photographer from Whitefish River who is working on the cultural programming for the celebration, says there is a growing consciousness in Toronto about acknowledging and recognizing the Indigenous presence and making it more visible.

“Toronto is really kind of bursting with Indigenous murals right now,” Nahwegahbow says. “This one is quite beautiful and I live in the area close to the mural. It is beautiful, it is very powerful. I think it is going to help Indigenous people feel a greater sense of belonging in Toronto. To see our symbols up there on the wall of the building is incredible.”

The Aug. 27 mural celebration runs from 3-6 p.m. with a variety of Indigenous artists and performers, including hoop dancer Nimkii Osawamick; hand drummer, singer and actor Shandra Spears Bombay; crafter Tammy Enosse, who will deliver a medicine pouch workshop; and Cote.

“The mural and certainly the celebration reflect the growing consciousness in Toronto of some of the leadership,” Nahwegahbow says. “They need to acknowledge our place in the city, acknowledging that this land is Indian land. They really need to educate people, but they also need to reach out to the community to make us feel a sense of belonging in the city.”

A video of the completed mural is posted on the Riverside BIA website at: www.riverside-to.com/riverside-2017-mural/.