Did we ever talk treaties!

If you weren’t one of the nearly 100 people who enjoyed yesterday’s superb afternoon of talks, music and discussion at Toronto’s first TALKING TORONTO TREATIES, we’ll soon have more photos and video to share with you. In the meanwhile, here are the opening remarks by First Story Toronto member Victoria Freeman, providing an overview of what we hope TALKING TORONTO TREATIES will help accomplish for Toronto. Let this be the first of many TTTs!


Talking Toronto Treaties / Introductory Remarks by Victoria Freeman, June 26, 2015

Good afternoon. My name is Victoria Freeman and I’m a historian and member of First Story Toronto. First Story is a volunteer committee at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, comprising Indigenous and non-Indigenous community-members, knowledge-keepers, scholars, artists, and others with various skills and knowledges. Formerly known as the Toronto Native Community History Project, it was founded in 1995 by the late Rodney Bobiwash and Heather Howard with the following vision:

“To hold faith with our ancestors. To speak our memory. To preserve and promote the history of Aboriginal people in the Toronto area from time immemorial to the present, and for the future. To teach and share in the spirit of friendship, and with the goal of eliminating racism and prejudice.”

First Story Toronto shares information on the Indigenous history of Toronto through bus, bike and walking tours and through the First Story smartphone app, available for free download on iPhones and Android smartphones, and produced in partnership with the Centre for Community Mapping, University of Waterloo. The app maps stories of Indigenous history onto a Google-style map of Toronto, and includes text, photos, archival documents, oral history interviews, audiovisual materials, and links to other online resources. First Story also undertakes various forms of community-based research, such as last year’s Indigenous Women, Memory and Power in Toronto project, and our new ongoing project, Talking Toronto Treaties.

Today’s event is the culmination of First Story Toronto’s week of activities as host organization of the Pan Am Path for the downtown waterfront. The project was further expanded by generous funding from the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, which kick-started a very fruitful collaboration between First Story Toronto, Jumblies Theatre, and elders Pauline Shirt and Ed Sackaney and the staff of Aboriginal Student Services at George Brown College.

From the beginning, this project has been predicated on the belief that understanding our treaty relationships is not just a matter of mental or historical understanding, though that is crucially important, but also requires engagement with imagination, heart, spirit, and physicality (the land we live on and our physical bodies); hence this project brings together historical researchers, artists, elders, and the community.


From the First Story side, this project has involved coordination by myself and Brian MacLean; administrative support from the Native Canadian Centre, especially Rozella Johnston; the sharing of historical knowledge with Jumblies artists; and the hiring and supervision of two wonderful Indigenous historians in training. These are: Jesse Thistle, an award-winning Metis undergraduate student of history at York University, who will begin master’s level studies in the fall, and Zachary Smith, an Anishinaabe PhD student in history at the University of Toronto, whose focus is on pre-Confederation Ontario treaties. Jesse and Zach reviewed the existing historical writing about treaties affecting the Toronto area and conducted interviews with elders, Indigenous scholars and historians, and in particular with members of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation who were involved in the 2010 Toronto Purchase land claim. These interviews, most of which were both videotaped and audiotaped, are being edited into a video for public education purposes; they will also inform First Story’s various tours, and excerpts will be posted on the First Story app. The full interviews constitute an invaluable record of how local treaties are understood in Toronto in 2015, a record that will be available for future researchers in the First Story/NCCT archives.

Our aim today is to help each other broaden and deepen our understandings of our treaty relationships as Torontonians. I think it’s safe to say most Torontonians are unaware that they are even in a treaty relationship, that we are, in fact, treaty people. Or we think there is only one relevant treaty, the Toronto Purchase, which is often regarded as a one-time land purchase. Understanding the Toronto Purchase and the subsequent land claim is indeed crucial to understanding treaty relationships in Toronto, but we have come to realize that there are several treaties that link local Indigenous peoples – and Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – in a web of ongoing relationships. Understanding who we are as treaty people involves understanding what these various treaties meant in the past, how they’ve shaped our present, and what they could mean for the future in guiding us to a just, healthy, and respectful relationship between our peoples.

Another thing we’ve learned through this project is that there is no single way to view treaties: this project explores many perspectives on their significance and utility.


Why learn about treaties today? Many people believe there is a link between treaties and reconciliation, but as Leanne Simpson said in her book Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back, talk of reconciliation is far from new and Indigenous peoples have already attempted to reconcile their differences with settler peoples in countless treaty negotiations, “which categorically have not produced the kinds of relationships Indigenous peoples intended.” That’s a sobering comment – but it does seem that understanding treaties is the place to start.

Today’s event is therefore only the beginning of a necessary dialogue on what we need to learn to help us honour the words of the ancestors and live together in peace, respect, and friendship in the present and for future generations.


– Victoria Freeman

Talking Toronto Treaties

at George Brown College Waterfront Campus, 51 Dockside Drive, Toronto / June 26, 2015

– Photos by Brian MacLean


About FirstStoryTO

A mobile app that invites users to explore Toronto’s Indigenous history. This is a community project that is a work in progress. For those interested, we encourage you to email us at: firststory@ncct.on.ca with suggestions for possible sites and/or stories you would like to share on First Story. This blog will be up while we work on creating a permanent website for First Story. View all posts by FirstStoryTO

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