Engaged learning experience brings deeper perspective to Indigenous Thought students

Philip Cote and Jon Johnson show some of Cote's artwork during the tour
Philip Cote and Jon Johnson show some of Cote’s artwork during the tour

A group of students enrolled in Multicultural & Indigenous (MIST) 1050: Introduction to Indigenous Thought was given a first-hand glimpse into local aboriginal history when they boarded a First Story Toronto bus tour recently.

The engaged learning opportunity was organized by Professor Maggie Quirt in the Department of Equity Studies, after she received a portion of a new funding program designed to support indigenous education.

The three-hour bus tour was funded through the Office of the Vice Provost Academic as part of York University’s commitment to supporting Indigenous knowledge in the university curriculum. There have been several projects funded across all Faculties.

The First Story Toronto bus tour is “engaged in researching and preserving the Indigenous history of Toronto with the goal of building awareness of and pride in the long indigenous presence and contributions to the city.”

Leading the tour for the students was York U’s own Professor Jon Johnson (Department of Social Science), who has been involved with First Story Toronto since 2006. Alongside Johnson was fellow First Story tour guide Philip Cote, also of the Centre for Aboriginal Student Services (CASS) at York University.

IMG_3586 IMG_3596 In addition to travelling back 13,000 years in history during visits to significant landmarks such as the Humber River, High Park and the St. Lawrence market, students were invited to participate in several Indigenous rituals.

At a resting spot along the Humber River, Cote and Johnson led a smudging ceremony, followed by a drumming and singing ceremony, and finally the opportunity to partake in a prayer and gift of tobacco ritual. (See the video below).

Fourth-year York U student Gabrielle Aquino said the tour “showed me a side of history and a side of Toronto that I was not aware of, and not appreciative of.”

IMG_3602 IMG_3603Throughout the tour, Cote and Johnson share personal insights as well as documented historical details about what Toronto looked like 13,000 years ago, how it evolved, and other interesting snippets – including Johnson’s entertaining ability to spell long and complex indigenous words.

The origins of locations, such as Toronto and Ontario, and their initial spelling and pronunciations were shared with the group, as well as riveting stories about Toronto’s first murder, the evolution of High Park and insight into exciting archeological sites nearby.

Anquino said this experience in education would be difficult to replicate in the classroom, and felt it was “so insightful” and took her understanding of Canadian history to a deeper level.

“I was so honoured to be able to be a part of such an important practice, and to be exposed and experience first-hand what other cultures do,” she said of the smudging ceremony and rituals performed at the Humber River departure.”

“It puts everything in to a much deeper perspective,” she said.

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, YFile deputy editor