Six Nations artists Judy Devine and Nashina Loft produced mural installed at 289 College St. in Toronto.
TORONTO – On June 21st 2022 National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Medicine Wheel Toronto unveiled a mural commemorating the genocide of Canada’s Residential School System at their 289 College St. location. The mural was designed by two Six Nations artists, Judy Devine, of the Tuscarora nation and Nashina Loft, of the Mohawk nation. Over 150 people, predominantly members of Toronto’s Indigenous community, came to the event.
The Medicine Wheel provided a barbeque with hotdogs and sausages, as well as water and refreshments. Speakers such as Del Riley and Kanenhariyo LeFort were on hand to decry economic genocide and the terrible legacy of Residential Schools as children’s graves continue to be discovered. Cristal Hughes, spokesperson for Mississauga of the Credit Medicine Wheel explained. “Today we are just celebrating with a barbeque… we are going to have some elders speaking… we have some dancers coming as well”.
Before the speeches began, a contingent of pro-Indigenous activists who had been protesting at Queen’s Park converged at the Medicine Wheel store and closed down the street for a few minutes. The road was reopened without incident, and was a show of Indigenous power on the streets of Toronto.
The Residential school mural was mounted on the wall high above the store. The artwork is intricate and full of symbolism. As artist Judy Devine explained “We just wanted to do something to capture the tragedy and the truth of it so that Canada knows.” Since the 215 unmarked graves of Residential School victims were discovered at Kamloops Residential School, thousands more “anomalies” have been confirmed at Residential schools across Canada.
Devine’s grandparents were Residential School survivors, and her work on the mural held deep meaning. “It was very emotional I had to actually ask for sweetgrass while drawing the children being taken away, it’s heavy and it does hit close to home with my grandparents being residential school survivors” she said.
National Indigenous Peoples Day is a celebration and Devine wanted to express Indigenous identity in the mural. “We put cultural aspects in there as well, Nashina, she is the one who did Sky Woman with the braids coming down and I did the children and the grass to represent our children that were stolen.” The painting also features many other aspects that are important both to Indigenous culture and personally to the artists themselves. “This man here running away represents my grandfather, he ran away from Residential School” Devine said, pointing to a figure on the right of the mural.
Large display boards were made available at the event for people to sign in memory of their experience in residential schools, or to write down the names of family members who had similarly suffered. A plan is in the works to do a travelling display with the artwork and names to ensure that the victims of Canada’s genocide are never forgotten.
Sovereign People on Sovereign Land
The Medicine Wheel Cannabis dispensaries represent Indigenous people exercising their constitutionally protected Treaty and Aboriginal rights on their unceded traditional territory. “The Medicine Wheel Cannabis stores are on sovereign land here in Toronto. We offer a lot of products to people as opposed to prescription drugs” Hughes said. “It’s much better for them.”
Del Riley, Chippewa Crane Clan, was on hand to share his decades of knowledge and experience as a residential school survivor, former Chief of the Chippewa of the Thames, the last President of the National Indian Brotherhood and co-author of Sections 25 and 35 of the Constitution. “When they discovered all of the unmarked graves I decided to come back and help out, to try to get rid of this racism.” RIley said “This gets me angry, I was retired, I was living The Life of Riley (that’s my last name) but now I think I’ve got some energy left, I can go at them for another ten years.”
Hughes was happy to reflect on the progress made. “We have come so far, relearning our language and learning about our culture. We’re learning about who we are as First Nations people and we’re becoming stronger communities and stronger Nations for that reason.” To further strengthen their community, Medicine Wheel is committed to giving back. “We’ve been able to sponsor pizza days at the schools. Give back to the men’s shelter, the women’s shelter to two-spirited people here in Toronto. We do our best to give back and letting them know that we care about them.”
Kanenhariyo, of the Mohawk Bear Clan in Tyendinaga, came to reflect on the tragedy of Residential Schools and the progress made by businesses like Medicine Wheel. “Residential Schools were concentration camps for children and that is a legacy that can never be repeated, never be allowed to be repeated. It can’t be one that ever gets to be forgotten and it’s not one that gets to be forgiven.” he said, referring to recent “apologies” by Justin Trudeau, the Pope and others.
Kanenhariyo praised Medicine Wheel for the opportunities it presents to Indigenous people. “My brothers are putting stores up all over the City and saying ‘This is mine, this is my land and I am growing a business here and I am going to employ my people and I am making money and I am making things happen!’”
Medicine Wheel continues to develop Indigenous Economic Sovereignty with 12 shops and 75 employees in Toronto. They offer premium cannabis products and support Toronto’s Indigenous community.
Kanenhariyo had these words to offer in closing “I encourage you to shop Indigenous because that means people can put shoes on their children’s feet, they can pay their bills. They can break the cycle of dependency on Canada.”