[URBAN NOTE] “How to reclaim Toronto’s origins”
At the Unviersity of Toronto at Mississauga’s newspaper The Medium, Sabiha Shah discusses a recent lecture by Anishinaabe artist Susan Blight talking about ways Toronto can better engage with its living First Nations heritage.
Last Tuesday, Susan Blight delivered Hart House’s annual Hancock Lecture, titled “Land and Life in Tkaronto: New Solidarities Toward a Decolonial Future.” Blight is an Anishinaabe artist, filmmaker, arts educator, and activist from Couchiching First Nation. She is nationally recognized for her work in language revitalization. Blight is also a presidential appointee to the Hart House Board of Stewards, and organizes U of T’s annual Indigenous Education Week.
As the country celebrates its 150th anniversary, Blight sheds light upon Toronto’s 15,000 years of history. She began the lecture by introducing her clan and origins, acknowledging the Indigenous territory that we occupy. The intent of Blight’s lecture was to promote Anishinaabe land, history, knowledge, and particularly, the language—Anishinaabemowin.
In 2013, Blight co-founded The Ogimaa Mikana Project with Anishinaabe writer and educator Hayden King. The project consists of Anishinaabe activists and artists working in Toronto to reclaim the streets and landmarks of Anishinaabe territory with the use of Anishinaabemowin. The main objectives of the project are reclaiming and renaming. This is done by replacing official street, park, and landmark signage with the original Anishinaabe versions. For example, “Spadina” would be changed to the original Ishpadinaa.
“At the centre of the project is the revitalization of the Anishinaabemowin,” noted Blight, “[…] as a pushback against the settler-colonial system in Canada—a system whose objective with regards to Indigenous peoples has not changed.”
Blight acknowledged the dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their land and resources, and how the state’s assimilation policies resulted in devastating effects on Indigenous languages. The Ogimaa Mikana Project aims to remind non-Indigenous people of their place on Indigenous land. It also seeks to reinforce awareness of Indigenous presence in Canada. Moreover, the project hopes to initiate communication with other Anishinaabe in Toronto—a city that can feel alienating to Indigenous peoples with its endless signage that represents the settler-colonial system.