Indigenize or die

Restoring indigenous knowledge of the land

By Fernando Arce

TORONTO – What do we really know about Indigenous Peoples outside of movies and history books? Why do we call them “native” in the first place? What is their version of the so-called discovery of Turtle Island, otherwise known as Canada? What is their relationship with the land like?

A new monthly series of workshops provocatively titled Indigenize or Die – alluding to the urgency of global warming – will attempt to answer these and other questions on the last Wednesday of every month. Indigenous speakers from around the globe will share their own cultural experiences and knowledge and discuss ways to move toward an ecologically sustainable future from a political, spiritual and practical point of view.

More than 30 people attended the first event on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at the Peace Lounge, inside the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at 252 Bloor St. West, in Toronto.

Ka’nenharíyo Lefort, a Kanyenkehaka (Mohawk) man, and Kevin Best hosted the inaugurating event.

They opened the series discussing the culture, traditions and history that existed on Turtle Island long before European contact.

For instance, “this city is called Aterondo,” said Lefort, a Kanyenkeha (Mohawk) language and culture instructor at Queens University who also holds an Honours’ Degree in Indigenous Studies at Trent University.

“This was a trading point for all the different Onkwehon:we (original peoples), as well as travellers that were coming from the northern portion of Lake Superior. So it’s been a multicultural city for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

The event was organized by Natalie Zend, one of three co-hosts of Unify Toronto Dialogues, a monthly dialogue series focused on sustainable living, and Rehana Tejpar, co-director at bloom consulting, a team of facilitators helping others organize their own creative projects.

Near the end of the event, the multi-ethnic audience joined in the conversation with the speakers to discuss the difference between settlers and immigrants.

“An immigrant comes to a land to find a place to integrate, to be a part of the existing culture,” LeFort said. “A settler is someone who comes and settles or, in the case of Canada…occupies. The majority of Canada is an occupied state.”

The night ended with everyone sitting in a circle and sharing their own visions of what the future may look like.

“People sharing resources…and territories,” said one person.

“A revolution in how we build homes,” said another.

“Changing our relationship with control,” a third shared.

The event began around 6:30 p.m. and ended by 9.

“We invite you, over the course of the year, together to learn – for the current settlers – how to be real immigrants,” said Best, who’s been involved in restoring indigenous culture and knowledge for over four decades through activism and innovative business ventures. “And to change the relationship with the people of this land and with the land itself, in order to move to a different kind of future, one that isn’t killing us.”

The next meeting will be on Wednesday, Mar. 2.

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