Mosaic honours the history of local indigenous peoples

Over the summer of 2015, First Nations in Toronto reclaimed a piece of their history in the Don Valley.

On Sept. 28, local politicians, community members and arts and indigenous culture supporters witnessed the unveiling of The Gathering of the Clans Community Mosaic Project on the north lawn of Todmorden Mills.

After an opening prayer by local Anishinaabe elder Dorothy Parker, Todmorden Mills museum administrator Ulana Baluk spoke about the role the Don River played in the 11,000-year history of indigenous peoples in southern Ontario.

“The river provided food and materials for subsistence, served as a transportation corridor and was an important expression for cultural and spiritual values,” Baluk said.

The mosaic came about through a collaboration between the Tecumseh Collective and Red Pepper Spectacle Arts. Phil Cote and Rebecca Baird of the Tecumseh Collective designed the mosaic.

Rebecca Baird and Phil Cote of the Tecumseh Collective designed the Gathering of the Clans mosaic now on permanent display at Todmorden Mills.
Rebecca Baird and Phil Cote of the Tecumseh Collective. (Paula Last/Toronto Observer)

Gabriella Caruso, of Red Pepper Spectacle Arts, talked about the mosaic technique.

“Each piece is hand-cut and hand sanded to fit in its exact location,” Caruso said.

The mosaic started with small drawings of animals, which were then filled with mosaics. The artists worked together installing the final pieces.

“It was truly a gathering of many, many disparate and creative energies,” Caruso said. “I hope we can continue to gather around the table.”

The mosaic is inlaid into that large, circular table and represents the various clans with animals and birds. First Nation School’s Ojibwe language teacher Marie Gaudet sang and then shared what each clan represents in a story.

The loons and the cranes are the chief clans. The deer clan people are loving and nurturing. The marten clan is the warrior, and the bird clan carry spiritual knowledge. Medicine is represented by the bear clan. The turtle and fish are the intellectuals, the planners and educators who share information among clans.

The bear clan represented on the Gathering of the Clans Mosaic.
The artistry shines through the Gathering of the Clans Mosaic. (Paula Last/Toronto Observer)

Gaudet said she became familiar with these stories in order to teach her students.

“First I went to ceremonies… but there’s a lot of written material out there, like the Mishomis Book,” she said.

“I’m always researching information to bring to our kids from all nations so that we may have children that represent those nations.”

Gaudet added that with issues facing the indigenous community such as residential schools and missing and murdered women, the mosaic can be a welcoming space of healing.