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A STEPS PROJECT

 

From Weeds We Grow 2021

From Weeds We Grow is an interdisciplinary public art project that began in 2020 that encourages exploration of our shared spaces while connecting community members to each other, the arts, and Rowntree Mills Park through collaborative arts and storytelling workshops and an interactive web app

Inspired by the Humber River and the history of Toronto Rexdale’s local green spaces, we explore how plants are used to heal and nourish one’s spirit through artistic, Indigenous, and community-based approaches. In collaboration with Myseum of Toronto, this year’s project features a medicine walk by James Carpenter, Grey Cloud, about the interconnectedness of the trees, plants, wildlife and the Humber River, as well as a virtual participatory birch bark basket-making workshop led by Lindsey Lickers, ‘Mushkiiki Nibi Kwe’ (Medicine Water Woman), culminating in an online exhibit of participants’ artwork. 


 

PROJECT AT A GLANCE

Location: Rexdale, Toronto

Artists/Facilitators: Lindsey Lickers and James Carpenter

Year: 2021

Services: Artist Capacity BuildingCreative Placemaking

 

40

workshop participants

13

one-of-a-kind handcrafted birch baskets exhibited

2

lead artists/faciliators

1

virtual medicine walk

PROJECT DETAILS

From Weeds We Grow is an interdisciplinary public art project that began in 2020 to explore the Rexdale community’s relationship to the environment through virtual walking tours, workshops, storytelling and performances rooted in Rowntree Mills Park. This year, lead artists James Carpenter and Lindsey Lickers continue the exploration of nature, public space, art and wellness through three project components: a medicine walk led by James Carpenter, a participatory birch bark basket-making workshop led by Lindsey Lickers, and an online exhibition to showcase the resulting artwork by workshop participants. In collaboration with Myseum of Toronto, this project was showcased at this year’s virtual Myseum Intersections Festival.

“Birch has taught us many things over the course of this project. One of the most beautiful lessons is one of authenticity, being true to who you are no matter what others think. Giving for the sake of caring, unconditionally. Recognizing that we all bring something to the world that nobody else does or even can. These creations embody the spirit of this way of moving in the world, with not one being exactly the same as the other but all with the same purpose of holding and creating caring spaces.”

– Lindsey Lickers, ‘Mushkiiki Nibi Kwe’

Photo Credit: Lindsey Lickers

MEDICINE WALK

Produced by Myseum in partnership with STEPS, James Carpenter led a virtual nature walk to share his Indigenous knowledge of Rowntree Mills Park located in the communities of Humber Summit and Toronto’s Rexdale. Inspired by the history of Rexdale’s local green spaces and the Humber River (traditionally known as Niwa’ah Onega’gaih’ih, meaning “Little Thundering Waters”), James shared the importance of community, our connections to the environment, how plants are used to heal and nourish one’s spirit, and the story of the sacred Birch Tree (Wiigwaas).

This medicine walk video accompanied the online birch bark basket-making workshop facilitated by Lindsey Lickers.  

“The birch tree wanted to help the people, the community. All the forest was mad at the birch tree, and started to whip that tree. And even though all the forest told this tree not to help us human beings, this tree got a message from the great spirit, the one that gives life to all things and said, “Wiigwaas, if you want to help those people, go and help those people.” And what the great spirit did was it gave the birch tree so many layers of protection. So we often say that there are layers upon layers of skin in this birch tree. But we like to talk about the first seven layers of this birch. We learn that these seven layers also represent those seven grandfather teachings.”

“So in a birch tree they carry wisdom, love, respect, honesty, humility, bravery and truth. This is the teaching of the birch tree. So when you see these baskets, remember that this birch tree was one of those first helpers that said I want to help those people and give them a hand with their life. So we thank this birch tree, we say ‘miigwetch wiigwaas’.

– James Carpenter

HONOURING OUR CONNECTIONS: CREATING A CARING VESSEL

Birch trees play a large role in Indigenous traditions and life. Birch bark is water resistant, allowing for use in the creation of many vessels. The medium of basket making is rooted in an expanded understanding of the importance of connecting to land, utilizing natural materials combined with personalized symbolism of these learnings. 

In June 2021, STEPS and Myseum hosted a participatory workshop as part of the Myseum Intersections Festival that served as a platform to share how Indigenous peoples honour their relationship to the land through craft. Facilitated by Lindsey Lickers, this workshop gave participants an opportunity to experience first-hand the intricacies of this craft, while also honouring Indigenous experiences, histories and relationships, with the birch basket serving as the keeper of this new awareness. Leading up to the workshop, Lindsey collaborated with STEPS for an Instagram Takeover to share more about her practice alongside a series of artist talks.

Beginning with James Carpenter’s medicine walk, workshop participants were guided through a reflective exercise and presentation to dive deeper into their relationship with the land base they reside on, the environment at large, and how this relationship has been strengthened by the knowledge shared. Participants then had the opportunity to create miniature birch bark baskets used in medicine gathering with an invitation to exhibit their work in a virtual exhibit hosted by STEPS. 

Special thanks to Albion Toronto Public Library and Glad Day Bookshop for distributing workshop kits to participants. Explore the virtual exhibit below by hovering over the gallery images and clicking the arrows to view each participant’s work!

Sandra Nakata

“This basket will forever remind me of time spent with beloved longtime friends, and my introduction to connecting with the land in this beautiful, simple medium in the outdoors.”

Jody Doulis

I made two baskets. One has an elongated penny with a painted turtle on it from Bon Echo Provincial Park. I remember taking my boys there and paddling across the lake to marvel at the pictographs on Mazinaw Rock. We visited the pictographs years ago but I came across this souvenir a few short hours before I learned about From Weeds We Grow. It’s also a nod to my teacher, Lindsey Lickers of the Turtle Clan. How serendipitous! The second basket has a pewter teardrop with an image of a petroglyph represented on “The Teaching Rocks” outside of Peterborough, ON near Stony Lake.”

Tanya Murdoch + Ursa Sanderson

“My daughter and I did this workshop together…We harvested birch bark in our midtown Toronto neighbourhood from a dead tree standing. We had the other materials left from another workshop making moccasins. We made the baskets together, and my birch vessel holds her(s).”

Ruth

Keeping the outer bark while shaping the basket requires some concessions to symmetry. Like most living organisms imperfections on the surface add interest.”

Emily Chan

On the summer solstice, an orange blanket draped across the horizon as the moon rose over my shoulder while I sewed the Chinese character 日 at the base of this birch basket. 日 has various meanings including day or sun and originated as a pictograph depicting the sun. I’m grateful for this opportunity to learn about Indigenous ways of doing, make connections to my ancestry, and sew while the sun rises and sets.”

Sienna (she/they)

After reflecting on one of the guiding questions Lindsey Lickers gave us: “What in nature and your surroundings is reflective of resiliency?” I was inspired to embroider a simple running stitch in a looping shape with arrows on either end, on my miniature birch basket. The shape and colours represent the cycles we find in water, and the Humber River watershed. I reflected on the time I’ve spent by the Humber River while living in Toronto, and realized I had never really questioned how far the water travelled before it reached Lake Ontario, nor how much wetland there was before more colonial- urban development had spread. I am grateful to have spent time with the birch bark, exploring another beautiful basket form, and connecting to birch hand in hand with water.”

Hyein Lee Illustration

“This artwork showed me how difficult and under-appreciated craft is. It was fun working with other participants and seeing their progress!”

Hannah

“I‘m privileged to be invited into this space to contemplate my relationship with the land through creating this art. I’m creating from the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat. On one side of the basket, I sewed 7 blue parallel lines to symbolise the seven layers of the birch skin and the seven teachings that the birch tree shares with humans: wisdom, love, respect, honesty, bravery, truth, humility. I chose the colour blue because the lines look like the rippling of water and birch bark also provided humans with material for canoes. I hope to learn the teachings of the birch tree.

I’ve placed an offering of rose petals, nasturtium, basil, shiso leaves and chaga inside the basket. On Father’s day, we passed it around the dinner table, holding it up to the sky with both hands, as if in ceremony, as a vessel to offer up praise and thanksgiving in those living things held within. We did not really have any fancy words, except to say “thank you, thank you, thank you” but we had the gestures and the heart feeling.”

Fariba Kalantari

I live in midtown Toronto on a major street where new tall buildings are constantly going up in the neighbourhood. I like the movement of the city but I often miss nature. In this project I enjoyed handling the bark, and learning about the birch tree and Indigenous relationships to nature. As an immigrant to Canada, my interest in Indigenous Culture makes this basket very dear and valuable to me. “

Rey

“I’m reminded of lowbush blueberries and seashells at low tide
gathered in hats, pockets and blankets,
wildflowers, fiddleheads, and rhubarb along wooded trails
bundled in clothing and accumulating in our arms.

And white birch trees elegantly backbending in winter
coated with ice
remaining strong, too soft to break.

My basket is built to hold, carry and protect
these memories and medicines.”

Monika, Maithili, Nivethen

Delicate balance of strength and existence! Touching the inside of the bark was a courageous and self regulating experience. We went to our neighbourhood and looked for some birch trees too. Thank you for reconnecting us with this amazing resilient tree.”

Lauren

An incredible learning opportunity and experience for myself. Thank you for these lovely teachings. Though I found the making of the basket difficult, I loved every moment I was able to participate and learn. “

“The inclusion of Indigenous artists like Lindsey Lickers, and storytelling from healer James Carpenter, is key to building relationships on the land our city is on, and in cultural exchange. Ongoing opportunity for Indigenous voices and knowledge to be shared is vital.”

– Sienna (she/they), Workshop Participant

Make Your Own Birch Bark Basket
Learn More About From Weeds We Grow

Acknowledgements and Project Partners

From Weeds We Grow is part of the Arts in the Parks program. It has been made possible through generous support from Toronto Arts Foundation, Toronto Arts Council, and the City of Toronto.

We extend our thanks to Ontario Culture Days for their partnership. This project was featured as part of 2021 programming.

Logos of Toronto Arts Foundation, Toronto Arts Council and the City of Toronto
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