Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Toronto: A Love Song


I have been extremely lazy over this past summer, occupied by my little routine of work/home/sleep/fun. But mostly it’s because I have been enjoying the fact that I live in Toronto and have been immersed in how much I love living here.

I love this city. I have always felt at home here – in fact, I have been an urban dweller for far longer than I lived on the reserve. I left that home for this one when I was 17 and have remained here, reveling in my life as an urban Indian, since that point. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I have been blessed over the course of my career to visit other Canadian and American cities and can honestly say that there is no where else I could even think about living in. I love Toronto. This is a beautiful, living organism, a vibrant and exciting place, pulsing with great expectations for the future. The thing that I love best however is when the ghosts of the past brush against me when I ride my bike home at twilight along Front Street. I can feel the vibrations of my relations here.

I often laugh when people say, “Oh the First Nations here were the Mississaugas”. Well they may have been here when the English settled the town of York, but that’s because the Haudenosaunee had moved to the south side of Lake Ontario to consolidate our power and position in the wake of the Beaver Wars. In our absence the Mississaugas moved in. Up until that point, this entire area was riddled with our villages and hunting encampments. Toronto/Tkaronto itself means “There are trees there in the water”. This is because when our hunting or war parties would come across the lake in our immense elmbark canoes, the tall elm trees that at that point lined the entire shoreline would be reflected in the still surface of the water, looking as though they were standing in the water. How beautiful and how romantic this image is to me. And I love how that word conveys an ownership to my people that we can still claim through our naming of this place.

I love this modern, cosmopolitan place, crammed with its steel and glass towers and honking cars and clanking buses. I love the fact that when I step out of my house I can hear five different languages spoken in the space of a city block. I love looking at the diverse beauty of humanity reflected in the faces of my neighbours. I love the fact that I can go within six blocks of my house and sample ten different cuisines of cultures far beyond Turtle Island. I love the bustle, the crazy intensity, the 24-hour busy-ness of this place. I love the anonymity, but also the strange camaraderie that happens with people that you see every day. I absolutely love riding my bike, dodging in and out of traffic like a modern-day warrior clinging to the back of a pony. I also love the fact that Toronto absolutely does not give a fuck about what anyone else thinks about it. Love it or hate it, it does not care. And this is why I adore it so.

Once upon a time I wrote in a short story which was my first love poem to Toronto: “…you are obsessed with finding the lingering images of Iroquoia that are scattered throughout the city, buried beneath the strata of the modern age, like fossils. The city crest, murals on the sides of buildings, the huge bronze Iroquois brave on a storefront in Yorkville, the names of streets, the wooded and garbage-strewn ravines themselves whisper to you, saying, "Haudenosaunee daughter, here we are, we have not gone away.”

Here in my beloved city the present and the past collide in me, and I think of this often as I zoom around my downtown orbit.