Toronto

'All of it is about healing': Teepees come to city hall to honour residential school survivors

More than 20 large painted teepees have been erected in Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square as the city holds a festive celebration over two days to honour the legacy of residential school survivors.

Indigenous cultural gathering, 2nd of its kind, has transformed Nathan Phillips Square

A row of teepees now in Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square. The city and Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre are hosting what is called the Indian Residential School Survivors Legacy Celebration. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

More than 20 large painted teepees have been erected in Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square as the city holds a celebration over two days to honour the legacy of residential school survivors.

In the middle of the square, with teepees on both sides, there is a sculpture of a large white turtle standing on a boulder. The turtle faces city hall. The sculpture is a life-size replica of one being created by Anishinaabe artist Solomon King. 

The teepees and replica turtle sculpture are all part of an event called the Indian Residential School Survivors Legacy Celebration. It is second annual cultural gathering of its kind in the city and is being held on Monday and Tuesday.

City officials expect that the actual sculpture, made of out Indiana limestone, will be unveiled in the square in three years.

Theo Nazary, a strategic planner at the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning Monday that organizers have transformed the square into a Indigenous culture space. The centre, along with the city, produced the event.

Today is the start of the second annual Indigenous Residential Schools Survivor Legacy Celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square. Anishinaabe sculptor Solomon King talks about what his sculpture and healing garden to be built at the square means to him. Strategic planner at the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre Theo Nazary discusses the importance of the celebrations. 8:44

"This is probably the largest cultural gathering in an urban space in all of North America for Indigenous people," Nazary said on Monday.

"It's all about showcasing the local talent and showcasing the food, the music, the artists and just honouring survivors and the diversity of different nations. All of it is about healing."

Nazary said Toronto residents who attend the event will learn about Indigenous culture and meet Indigenous people. When the square was turned into an Indigenous cultural space last year for the first event, people were amazed, he added.

"We transformed the square last year. People were awestruck when they walked by the square. And we did the same yesterday, setting up. People walking by city hall are just going to be astounded," Nazary said on Monday. 

The replica turtle sculpture faces Toronto city hall. The actual sculpture is called the Restoration of Identity. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

Inside the teepees, there are workshops and interactive experiences, including teaching about Wampum belts.

There is also a space set aside for residential school survivors themselves and it includes counselling, a longhouse, a survivor and a food tent and a sacred fire.

On two stages, there are performances featuring drumming and jingle dress dancing, traditional stories and throat singing, Métis fiddlers and jiggers. There are Indigenous foods, arts and crafts for sale in a marketplace. There is rock painting.

The event is also designed to draw awareness to the turtle sculpture itself, which is called the Restoration of Identity. It embodies Turtle Island, also known as Mother Earth, which represents many First Nation creation stories, and it was developed in response to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called on provincial and territorial governments, in collaboration with survivors and their organizations to commission and install "a publicly accessible, highly visible, residential schools monument in each capital city to honour survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities."

When the actual sculpture is unveiled, it will list the names of the 17 residential schools that operated in Ontario. 

City officials expect that the actual turtle sculpture, made of out Indiana limestone, will be unveiled in the square in three years. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

Patrick Tobin, the city's director of arts and culture services, said in an email that the city and centre are aiming to install the turtle sculpture in Nathan Phillips Square permanently in 2022.

In a news release on Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the two-day event is important and the city is pleased to have helped produce it.

"This celebration of the resilience and vitality of residential school survivors and their families is an opportunity to move reconciliation from discussion to action," Tory said.

With files from Metro Morning