Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Kickass Foreword to an Interim Report on a Master Plan of Archaeological Resources for the City of Toronto

Mohawk village, 1600s
Okay, so a couple of weeks ago on Spacing, I re-posted my piece about the prehistoric footprints discovered on the bottom of Lake Ontario. They were left there by some of the very first human beings to ever set foot on this land — about 11,000 years ago, not long after the end of the last ice age – and then they were discovered by construction workers in the early 1900s. Revisiting that story got me digging into some more of the history of Toronto in the days before our city was founded. Which is how, by following a link from a Torontoist article, I ended up looking at a municipal report from 2004, laying out the framework for our city's Archaeological Master Plan.

As it turns out, that report has a kickass foreword. It's by William Woodworth, Raweno:kwas, an architect and Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. I thought I'd share it, since it reminds me of some of the things I was thinking about when I started the Toronto Dreams Project: about the ghosts that haunt our city.

Of course, for me and my existential, atheistic, postmodernism-ish-ness, that haunting is a metaphor: a way of thinking about how the city of today is the product of all the people who have lived here before us. It seems to me that in a lot of ways, we're literally living in their city: surrounded by their buildings and the stuff they left behind, the systems and infrastructure they developed, the ideas and values we inherited from them. Their stories are all around us; people been infusing this place with meaning and knowledge ever since they left those first few footprints in that prehistoric clay. The more we learn about the decisions they made and the lessons they learned, the more we learn about our city and ourselves — and the better equipped we'll be to make this place an even better place to live.

But Torontonians don't exactly have a reputation for being good at remembering that history. Almost as soon as we discovered those prehistoric footprints, we poured concrete over them. We wanted to put in a pipe. Today, most of us have no idea they were ever there. And we don't tell many stories about any of the other people who have left their footprints here, either. Whether they were Wendat or Iroquois, British or French, Italian or Ukrainian or Chinese or any of the countless others who have contributed to the making of this place — our home.

I'd like to think that The Toronto Dreams Project is one tiny, tiny step toward a city that's better at remembering. Toronto's Archaeological Master Plan, which will hopefully make sure that we never pour concrete over footprints like that again, is obviously a much, much bigger contribution. And an incredibly important one, too.

Because those stories are still there to be told — the ones we haven't paved over already. They're in our old buildings and on historical plaques, in the archives and libraries and museums. They're in heirlooms and family photos and traditions. They're on Wikipedia and in books and on blogs. And some of them are even embedded in the very ground beneath our feet.

All land is sacred.
Held in the land are those things that have been given to us in Creation and the remains of all that has come before us. This endowment deserves our respect. As we go about our lives on the Body of Our Mother, we leave our own footprints, not unlike my Ancestors who, following the last recession of the ice, traveled into this land, guided by the cycles of nature. The stories of their lives, traced and recorded through the protocols of modern, scientific archaeology, are coming up once again to teach us to remember and to respect. Such is the foundation of any deep and evolving culture. [...]

It has been said: 'we will never understand the present, until we understand the past.' This has never been truer than amidst the greed and amnesia of modern life.
The spirits of the Ancestors are present among us today, unconsciously informing our daily actions. We need to begin addressing them once again, offering respect for their good ways, which can be our ways, and asking forgiveness for having dishonoured their memory. Many newcomers have come here in retreat from their original homelands, and in the trauma of leaving home, have brought an expediency to their settling in this new place. In order to heal our relationships with one another, with the Mother Earth, and indeed with Creation itself, we must begin in earnest the work of remembering. [...]

Onen [“that is all, I am finished with what I had to say in my duty”].

William Woodworth Raweno:kwas


You can read the whole document (which has a great rundown of the pre-European cultural history of Toronto) here. It's a PDF. You can learn more about William Woodworth here and here. (Be warned, pleasant forest sounds may begin playing if you click through the first one.) And he made a contribution to the Toronto Museum Project here

You can read my post about the 11,000 year old footprints on the bottom of the Lake Ontario, which was published on Spacing this week here.

It was Kevin Plummer's article for Torontoist about the Wendat nation that led me to the report. You can read his post here.

The photo of the model of the Mohawk village comes the New York State Museum. You can learn more about it here

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