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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Native Bus Tour…and More!

Last October 13, the Sustainability Network and Toronto Green Community co-sponsored the “Native Bus Tour of Toronto”, a two-part event that consisted of an historical tour of Toronto from an Aboriginal perspective, as well as a post-tour discussion on how non-profit organizations and Aboriginal organizations/ communities can work together to further common goals. It was originally envisioned that this event would focus on environmental NGOs and Aboriginal organizations. However, there was keen interest from the other sectors of the non-profit community (social justice, faith-based groups, education, arts, community and social services) hence the scope of the event was expanded.

The tour started outside the office of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, the organization that regularly runs these educational tours. Our guide and educator, Don Jabokwoam, was very engaging and quite knowledgeable of Toronto’s Aboriginal history. He first brought us to the Étienne Brûlé Park right by the Humber river. He had explained to us the succession of First Nations that had settled in the area (from the Huron-Wendat to the Six Nations, to the Mississaugas), and how Aboriginal history is fraught with conflict and territorial disputes among various First Nations…no different from that of historical conflicts among nations in Europe, Asia or Africa.

As we moved from one location to the next, we learned more about the importance of the flora and fauna in these places (grass with bug repellant properties, cedar to prevent rashes, spruce trees for making porridge) and how mounds are significant burial sites for some, but not all, Aboriginal communities. The wonderful thing about this information exchange was that the indigenous knowledge and history came not just from our guide, Don, but also from the Aboriginal participants who freely shared their knowledge with the group. This openness in sharing knowledge and opinions perfectly set up the afternoon activity.

Suzanne Methot, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board and a Cree from Sagitawa (Peace River, Alberta), facilitated the post-tour discussion. This discussion focused on how the different groups (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) could work together to incorporate what they have learned during the tour to promote and protect some of the sites that were visited. Results of the discussions included: mapping of areas to reflect Aboriginal history, staging historical plays from an Aboriginal perspective, and tours that tell the real story – which includes both European and Aboriginal views. After sharing their thoughts and ideas, the participants expressed their interest in finding opportunities to make collaboration among their organizations happen.

Photo by Suzanne Methot

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