On 29 October, the “Deep Time” working group plunged headlong into the first of several land activations planned for this year. These peripatetic teach-ins bring Indigenous Elders, students, researchers, community workers, and individuals into collaboration with non-Indigenous individuals from the academic and larger communities.
Led by Anishinaabekwe Vivian Recollet, our group caught the tail end of the Salmon Run at the River named Kabechenong (Leave the Canoes and Go Back) by the Anishinaabeg and later renamed “Humber” by John Graves Simcoe (after an estuary in England) where we were led through the Anishinaabe creation story inscribed by the acclaimed Anishinaabe artist Philip Coté upon the concrete foundations of the Old Mill Subway overpass. Coté’s work here reflects his artistic practice, which is grounded in the spiritual understandings and responsibilities he carries as a Sundancer, a Pipe-Carrier, a member of the False Face Society and as a young Elder (recognized by Vern Harper).
Philip Coté, First Fire of Creation [Photo credit: Jill Carter] The creator sends his thoughts out into the void, and a galaxy explodes into being.
Admittedly, when we embarked upon our late-October exploration of Kabechenong, most of the returning salmon had already jumped the fish ladder and disappeared into the gravel beds to spawn a new generation.
At the Salmon Ladder [Photo credit: Jill Carter]
Many, however, had been “milked”—gutted for their roe by sports-fishers. Carried by the currents, their mutilated carcasses had drifted until they washed up on Kabechenong’s banks. This display of man-made ruin, the material evidence of a shameful disregard for life, most poignantly drove home one of Vivian Recollet’s key teachings for that day.
Lost in Translation [Photo credit: Jill Carter]
As Vivian related her understandings of the Anishinaabe text inscribed upon the Humber River plaque, we quickly realized that the Indigenous relationship with this crucial waterway (and migration corridor) has been lost in its “translation” into the English and French languages. This is a relationship that is realized by Indigenous peoples through conscientious adherence to natural law-- minobimaadiziiwin (the way of good life). These original instructions are remembered in this Anishinaabe inscription, as are our treaties with the land, and our treaties with other Indigenous nations (specifically, the Dish With One Spoon). They reverberate throughout deep time, (re)calling us yesterday, today and tomorrow to walk softly in this place, taking only what we need to ensure the continuance of our non-human relatives and of the human generations that will follow our own. This plaque is a marker of possession. For the Anishinaabeg, it marks the possession of a people by a place. For the Euro-Canadian it asserts the possession of a place by a people. This is an important teaching with which to begin our investigations into processual pathways through which to activate a shift from Settler-Indigenous-Land relationships characterized by forceful extractivism into generative relationships that are grounded in minobimaatisiiwin.