Over the years I’ve been fortune to have the chance to meet and chat with several Indigenous artists. From traditional to contemporary their art work had many stories woven in. I fell in love with contemporary artist Brian Jung who is known to incorporate consumer goods including Air Jordans and stitching them together to make new forms including headdresses and masks.  The thought-provoking works of Ken Monkman have been captivating, and the intricate progression in storylines found in Norval Morriseau’s paintings are just a few that come to mind and all were viewed right here in our city.

Brian Jung exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (June – August 2019)

But it was a trip out to the Sunshine Coast out in BC with family that drew my heart in. It was a difficult trip as a family member had also fallen ill back home. I vividly remember hearing drumming in a distance from where we were staying. Being near the Haida Gwaii we were told by locals that the drumming was for healing and respect for the land. I had a profound sense of connection.

I had mentioned this unforgettable experience to a few people here at home and discovered that many wanted to learn more about the First Nation communities. The beauty and appreciation of the original nurturers of our land  along side the journey of finding the truth of our country’s history. We have a long way to go.

Then, in 2019, I had the opportunity to travel to Arizona and made a point to visit The Heard Museum in Phoenix. Considered one of the world’s most important museums dedicated to Indigenous arts and culture rich in artifacts, sculptures, and paintings.  It also has a permanent gallery dedicated to educating visitors about the heartbreaking history of Residential Schools in the U.S. — yes, it’s not just Canada. It is never too late to learn no matter how difficult it is. We can only move forward by understanding what happened in the past.

Within 24 hours after returning home from Arizona my bags were packed again and jumped on a plane to Kelowna, BC where I was invited to attend the annual Indigenous Travel and Tourism Conference. I returned with energy and excitement to share the incredible information and experiences. I was completely in awe and inspired by the many people I had met and the experiences I was able to partake in. I learned so much about Indigenous owned and operated businesses, wineries, and tour operators from right across the country. Experiences of the dancing northern lights in the celestial night skies and the incredible chefs who have proven their talents on a global scale. The FOOD oh…the food! That’s a whole post in itself. There are some seriously exciting stuff happening in the culinary world! There are many stories to tell.

I had also met Sarain Fox at a travel event a few months later in Toronto as she was an ambassador for TreadRight Foundation – a not-for-profit organization that not only opens our eyes to unique cultures but also focuses on travelling with a mission to have a positive impact on the people and communities. I had followed Sarain — a stunning, smart, and approachable creative mind that I had discovered on social media and fan-girled over for the past few years. I was beyond thrilled to have chatted with for a few minutes just mere days before our city went into lockdown. I can remember her being  so giving of her time as she reminded me that the journey in life continues and evolves every step of the way. She recently became a mother herself while continuing to show grace and gratitude for how the universe has opened up doors for her. BTW, she recently launched an important partnership with Sephora.

Here are some ideas that may inspire you to learn and experience right here in Toronto. More to come!

Norval Morrisseau (1932–2007), Shaman and Disciples, 1979, acrylic on canvas, 180.5 x 211.5 cm, Purchase 1979, McMichael Canadian Art Collection

ARTS & CULTURE:

Royal Ontario Museum: The Daphne Cockwell Gallery dedicated to the First People features over 1000 objects and artifacts from across Canada. From pre-European times to today, visitors can explore and learn in this permanent gallery. During peak hours, visitors can gain more insight through an Indigenous Knowledge Resource Teacher (also can often be found the ROM’s social media pages) who will share stories, historical facts, and help to answer questions.

Art Gallery of Ontario: The McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art features some of the best art from our Indigenous and Canadian collections, presented in an engaging and accessible showcase giving way to ask questions, discover truths and lead in conversation. Drawing from stories about Canada’s origins and identities, the artists here invite us to engage with issues of land, water, transformation and sovereignty. Visitors will see artwork by Indigenous artists such as Carl Beam, Ruth Cuthand, Robert Houle, Robert Markle, Kent Monkman, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Jessie Oonark, Jane Ash Poitras and Jeff Thomas, among others, along with work by Inuit artists Shuvinai Ashoona and Annie Pootoogook. Canadian artists include Florence Carlyle, Emily Carr, June Clark, Lawren Harris, Jamelie Hassan, Kazuo Nakamura, Joanne Tod, Joyce Wieland and many more. The installations will change over time and new artists will be introduced.

McMichael Canadian Art Collection Gallery:  holds an impressive collection of contemporary First Nations art.  Currently visitors to the Gallery can explore Early Days: Indigenous Art at the McMichael (until August 15) with more than 1,500 works ranging from eighteenth-century ceremonial regalia, through to items made for trade with settlers, to works by the vanguard of artists coming of age in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — among them Robert Houle, Carl Beam, Norval Morrisseau, Alex Janvier, Greg Staats, Faye HeavyShield and Shelly Niro — and onward to leading contemporary artists like Kent Monkman, Meryl McMaster and Rebecca Belmore. The McMichael also holds the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op’s landmark collection of original drawings from Cape Dorset (Kinngait) dating back to the 1950s. While you’re there, explore the Ivan Eyre Sculpture Garden, the grounds and trails. The Minokamik Garden here was created under the guidance of Elder Shelley Charles, Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, Advisor to the McMichael’s Creative Learning team, and Lynn Short from Humber College Horticulture Department. The Garden represents the commitment of McMichael’s to restore the land on which the Gallery sits, along the traditional Carrying Place Trail adjacent to the Humber River Valley. The design of the garden is based on the traditional Anishinaabe teachings of Four Directions and includes plantings of sage, pearly everlasting, wild strawberry, sweetgrass, taco, and a red bee balm and more.

OUTDOOR EXPLORATION:

William G. Davis Trail & Trillium Park: located steps from Ontario Place, this land has been revitalized over the past few years along the waterfront. With its breathtaking views visitors will learn about the Moccasin Trail. Indigenous plants are also marked along the trail.

Wigwam Chi-Chemung floating art installation: In Partnership with Myseum of Toronto, Elder Duke Redbird’s Wigwam Chi-Chemung floating art installation is back on display at the South Marina from June 21 to October 17. Wigwam Chi-Chemung which roughly translates to “Big House Canoe” in Ojibway, celebrates the enduring Indigenous presence of the Anishinaabe peoples who since time immemorial resided and thrived on all the land, waters, lakes and streams in the Toronto Port Lands and surrounding territories. The lifelong dream of Elder Duke Redbird was to share the rich heritage of these waters from an independent Indigenous lens. Elder Redbird’s vision was realized in 2019 when his newly purchased houseboat was transformed into a floating art installation. Wigwam Chi-Chemung became a ‘canvas’ painted and outfitted with a series of Indigenous themes and murals.

This year’s installation includes a phone line with the option to leave Elder Redbird a voicemail with questions about Indigenous culture, history and more. Responses to select questions will be available on Myseum of Toronto’s website as part of a digital exhibition.

High Park: long before it was called High Park, archeological evidence shows Indigenous people had created the paths and cared for the land. One noted major indicator is the Black Oak Savannah — an important part of the area’s ecosystem for thousands of years. There are many plants along the trails that are cherished by many and you can learn about the High Park features through guided walks. Details here.

Crawford Lake Conservation Area & Longhouse: Explore the longhouse village and learn about local First Nations history. Sample warm and gooey maple taffy during Sweet Water Season. Watch the turtles paddling in the meromictic lake on a walk around the boardwalk. Enjoy a day hike from Crawford Lake through the Nassagaweya Canyon Trail, and journey to Rattlesnake Point. Bring your friends and cross-country ski on the Pine Ridge trail, or join a Moonlight Snowshoe hike. You can even host your child’s birthday party here (please check for covid19 guidelines)

WATCH:

Red Chef Revival: this food and travel series explores modern Indigenous cuisine, through the eyes of three chefs; New York Times featured Cezin Nottaway, Top Chef finalist Rich Francis and Chopped finalist Shane Chartrand. Using food as their access point, these chefs discover a new path to reconciliation. Red Chef Revival features ingredients you won’t find in any cookbooks, like bison heart, beaver tail, moose nose, seal and cougar.

Chuck and the Indigenous Peoples: celebrity chef Chuck Hughes visits Indigenous chefs across the country to learn more about their communities their cuisines and the connection to culture. From harvesting maple water to respecting the wildlife as they are prepared as food.

imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival: October 19-24, 2021. The annual Festival celebrates Indigenous storytelling in film, video, audio, and digital interactive art. Six days of programming will be presented online this year.

National Film Board: Always has a great selection of films by, or about Indigenous people of Canada. Currently, we were able to view Auyuittuq, pictures from Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island in the Northwest Territories. A collection of short films under the program Urban.Indigenous.Proud (FREE online)

Celebrating Indigenous Stories HotDocs: All summer long this specially-curated program (stream online) explores the vital storytelling traditions of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples of Turtle Island—and offer powerful food for thought at a moment of national reckoning. In three uplifting films, and an illustrated digital lecture, we hope to offer space for reflection and inspiration, celebrating the life-changing, life-affirming stories that form the cultural bedrock of our land. Presented in partnership with Traditional Indigenous Knowledge Consultant Fred Martin.

LISTEN:

Inuit throat singing (katajjaq) has gained more interest as talented artists like Tanya Tagaq,  and KayuulaNova have become more mainstream. PIQSIQ and Silla and Rose have also brought throat singing to a more contemporary and mainstream audience in recent years.  Traditionally Inuit throat singers are often women who use movement and breath to create the rhythmic harmonies and notes. They created these beautiful experiences as ways to sing to babies or to pass the time playing games with other women and children.  There are no words but very expressive and mesmerizing to hear.

Here’s one by Silla and Rise who blend throat singing with electro beats. You can find their radio channel on Spotify.

WEST END PHOENIX: The Indigenous City Edit is a great collection of short audio true stories of what it’s like to be Indigenous in Toronto by well-known creatives within the community. First-hand moments are shared by Waubgeshig Rice, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Chief Lady Bird, Ryan McMahon, Ivy Knight, and more. The series is available as a Kobo Original audio series by the West End Phoenix, a well-loved community paper based in Toronto.

Interested in more ideas within Ontario? Visit IndigenousTourismOntario.ca

*Lead in photo McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Sculpture Garden.