“Talking Walls” is an on-going series of informal exhibit spaces staged throughout Hart House. It seeks to build understanding and awareness by giving voice to challenging and engaging subject matter.
The Oasis Skateboard Factory (OSF) is an award-winning alternative Toronto District School Board high school program where students earn credits by building and selling skateboards and running a small design business. At OSF students use their incredibly creative minds to put together a unique skateboard brand. We can create many designs and share a multitude of ideas, and here there are no limits to making what we love real.
As the world’s first skateboard design high school, OSF is dedicated to decolonizing education by learning through our OSF INDIG SK8 initiative and curriculum tracing skateboarding to its indigenous roots and contemporary expressions.
For the Seven Lessons project, OasisSk8board Factory TDSB School students worked with seven Indigenous artists; Jenny Blackbird, Kaya Joan, Keitha Keeshig Tobias, Naulaq LeDrew, Mike Ormsby, Graham Paradis and Isaiah Walker.
While creating, students learned about the seven grandfather teachings, Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility and Truth. We also learned about each artists' experience with education and learning inside and outside of mainstream schooling. With these lessons in mind, we had the task to work in small groups with our assigned artist to create a unique skateboard deck that reflected their teachings.
Miggy / HappyPlace Skateboards / Emmett
Jenny Blackbird x Miggy, HappyPlace Skateboards, Emmett
We worked with Jenny Blackbird, a Neh’yaw/Finnish artist born and raised in T’karonto. She is a high school dropout who now works for U of T’s Urban Indigenous Education. She is a hand drummer, seamstress, jingle dress dancer and creator. We love how she mixes her rockabilly tattoo style with Indigenous mediums like beading.
For our deck we chose to use a classic pool deck shape to give a big canvas for our graphic. The graphic is an orange background with repeating white chain pattern and a silhouette of a black tree. We chose the image of chains to show the linkage between communities. The tree shows the growth of people with our roots in the land. We were inspired by the grandfather teaching of respect. There are some interesting cross-overs between ways of showing respect in Indigenous cultures and respect in skate culture. There are unspoken rules in skateboarding that everyone knows and understands to make skateboarding more safe and enjoyable. For example you don’t wax a rail without letting people know and at the skate park you take turns and are aware of other people in the space. If you don’t follow the rules, the community enforces them. There is no referee or boss, skaters themselves are responsible for keeping one-another safe. In that way skateboarding is an independent group sport. The concept of autonomy, respect for self and others is crucial in Indigenous cultures. The role of the chief is to listen to the people, not tell them what to do and come up with decisions that are best for the community. This de-centralized authority makes us responsible for our actions and for one another.
Respect is something that can’t be demanded of people, it needs to be earned not based on your status but on how you conduct yourself as a person.
Triple / Otis / Johanna
Keitha Keeshig-Tobias x Triple, Otis, Johanna
For our board we worked with Keitha Keeshig-Tobias. She is a Anishnaabe/Delaware modern artist. She has a background as a chemist, which influences the symbolism of her work. She describes her art style as N8Vnouveau, a mix of Indigenous imagery and the Art Nouveau style of the 19th century. Many of her pieces are done in dipped pen ink with fluid and graceful lines.
This graphic is a horizontal image of a woman looking forward with the wind carrying her hair and pushing her forward. It has a very graceful and flowing feeling to it which contrasts with the sharp lines of the molecule diagram. The diagram is of a hydroxide molecule. Hydroxide is a chemical used in pain relief medications like aspirin. Indigenous people knew of the pain relieving properties of hydroxide through their medicinal use of willow bark. Willow bark can be made into a tea, a tincture or a cream. There is a myth that pre-contact Indigenous people of Turtle Island were not technologically advanced. However Indigenous peoples had sophisticated understanding of medicines, performed surgeries and had IV drips all long before contact, where Europeans were still practicing blood letting. This board represents an acknowledgement and honouring of Indigenous science and technology.
To make this board we pressed seven layers of Canadian maple in two sections. We cut away the face and hair and re-glued it to the base get a unique bas-relief effect. The board was painted in a blue colour way mimicking Keitha’s signature ballpoint pen style.
In making this board we were really blown away to learn about all the different Indigenous technologies we benefit from. We hope people take away from this board the beauty and importance of traditional knowledge
Tyler / Alan / Noah
Kaya Joan x Tyler, Alan, Noah
We made our board in partnership with Kaya Joan a multi-disciplinary Afro-Indigenous (Vincentian, Kanein’kehá with relations from Kahnawá:ke, Irish, Jamaican) artist. Their art style features bright solid colours, organic shapes and bold line work. Their figures are often in and interacting with nature with magical elements and adorned with tattoos.Kaya graduated from a non-traditional school system and works in community arts which we can relate to as alternative school students. It’s inspiring to see someone who graduated from alternative education thriving with their art and finding a unique path like a river.
This image is composed of three layers. The bottom layer consists of rivers drawn to replicate the rivers buried beneath our city. The second layer is of a grey grid made to look like a map of the streets of Toronto. The snake represents how the rivers that we buried are still alive and flowing The holographic details tie in a futuristic element. We chose a pintail shape because it mimics the shape of a surf board which gives the idea of surfing on the city streets, on top of the rivers.
Learning about the history of the land we live on was really interesting. We spend so much time in school learning about selective histories of our country but the natural history of T’karanto has never been mentioned before. Learning that the city we live in was built upon forgotten rivers makes us view the city as a living thing.
Angie / CJ
Naulaq LeDrew x Angie, CJ
For this project we had the opportunity to work with the well-known Inuit artist Naulaq LeDrew. Naulaq gave us a glimpse into Inuit oral traditions and shared stories from Baffin Island, Nunavut where she had the opportunity to grow up with her own family and community.
One of the stories she told us was about a blind boy who could kill polar bears with his bow and arrow to feed and defend his family but his stepmother would lie to him and tell him he missed every time. At the end of the story he regains his sight and confronts his step mother who is shocked and guilty. It was an awesome experience to be able to sit and listen to a story that has been passed down for hundreds if not thousands of years. She also showed us her traditional art materials and surprised us all when she casually held up a random ziploc bag filled with 3 inch polar bear claws!
On this board we decided to take the image of the polar bear in its ferocity bursting its head through the middle of the board, with its claws scratching through each end. Being inspired by the Northern territories’ climate we decided to do something that OSF has never done before and create a snow skate. A snow skate is made of the traditional skateboard materials of maple veneers but is designed to be ridden in the snow versus the street. Instead of adding trucks and wheels we’ve innovated by adding metal rails to carve through the snow.
We were inspired by the gift of knowledge and storytelling Naulaq gave to us and will continue this chain of giving by sending the snow skate to our partner school in Kingaait, Nunavut where they will be able to use the board out on the land.
Exodus / Stellan / Penny
Mike Ormsby x Exodus, Stellan, Penny
Our group was lucky to work with Mike Ormsby, a talented musician, painter and canoe builder from the Mississauga of Curve Lake First Nation. Mike gave an amazing talk describing his journey a teenager learning about his Anishnaabe heritage to his activism and career as an artist. He would start to tell us about another amazing experience he had and then tease us with “but that’s a story for another day”. We could have listened to him talk all day. In addition to being a great storyteller Mike also taught canoe building for many years. He really related to the way we teach and learn at OSF though making objects. We don’t learn about things in theory, instead we learn by doing.
This board is a free-ride dancer board. We thought the shape looked very elegant and we connected Mike’s love of music to longboard dancing. Longboard dancing combines the technicality of freestyle skateboarding with the rhythms and movements of dancing. The graphic is of a bear rendered in Mike’s signature woodland style. The Bear (or Mukwa in Anishinaabemowin) is responsible for defense and healing. The mother Bear (Mukwa) protects her cubs with ferocity. She is also cunning and knowledgeable about the plants of the forest. Like the mother bear, the Bear Clan is responsible for protecting their people. It is said that people of the Bear Clan are short tempered and live on the outside of the village to ensure the safety of the gentler clans inside the village. The Bear Clan are also the medicine people for they know the healing ways of the plants available to them.
In our culture there’s a tendency to prioritize academic learning through reading and writing. Working with Mike on this board reminds us that learning with our hands and through natural materials is just as crucial. It keeps us connected to each other, our bodies.
Kioni / Will / Tristan
Graham Paradis x Kioni, Will, Tristan
Our board was made in collaboration with Graham Paradis a Michif/Wiisakodewin multimedia, bead artist and dancer from Penetanguishene. Graham's passions always revolve around resistance and we were drawn to his interest in skateboarding and punk rock. Graham's work explores the parallels between punk ideology and Michif culture like autonomy, self-ownership and non-hierarchy. His work combines traditional bead work with punk images like spikes and iconic album covers.
We were inspired by Graham's mix of traditional and contemporary subcultures. We wanted a big powerful board shape to suit the image of the buffalo, a symbol of resistance and strength. We also wanted a shape that paid tribute to old school decks like the classic Tony Alva boards. We wrote the Mich if word "nashkopichkun" all over the background of the deck. Nashkopichkun means "linked in a chain", representing the Michif idea of thinking three generations forward and backward. We chose graffiti to again mix the old with the new, classic skateboard culture with street art and Indigenous cultures.
With this board we are paying tribute to skaters of the past while trying to make way for future generations of skaters to come. Often Indigenous cultures are presented as something from the past but we want you to think of Indigenous culture as a fixture in our present day.
Erin / Lauren
Isaiah Walker x Erin, Lauren
This board was inspired by the work of Isaiah Walker, author of "Waves of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai'i". Surfing has been a significant sport in Hawai'i for over 1,500 years. Walker sees surfing as a means of Indigenous cultural expression and resistance against colonialism.
Skateboarding originated in 1950's California as surfing was popularized by US soldiers returning from the South Pacific. Skateboarding was created by surfers who wanted to practice their sport when the waves were low. Skateboarding can directly trace its origins to Indigenous technology. At Oasis Skateboard Factory we are repeatedly asking ourselves how skateboarding today would be different if its Indigenous roots had not been erased.
We shaped this deck like a mini-surfboard, complete with square tail and fin to pay homage to surfing's influence on skate culture. The deck features the name "Duke" in graffiti hand style warped and distorted to look like waves as it flows down the board. Duke Kahanamoku was an Olympic swimmer who popularized surfing outside of Hawai'i in the early 20th century. We wanted to honour the legacy of Indigenous surfers and innovators like Duke who made skateboarding culture possible today. We chose to use a holographic material to illustrate the concept of "Aloha Aina" where traditional knowledge and innovation are synonymous. With this board we are imagining a future through Indigenous technologies, looking backwards and forwards for inspiration.
Outreach Communications and Programming Coordinator
Jenny Blackbird (Nehiyaw/Finnish-Canadian) Jenny is a multidisciplinary artist, hand drummer, singer, fashion designer, and jingle dress dancer. She volunteers at Aboriginal Legal Services as a community council member and advisory committee member, as well as a community Auntie for the Giiwedin Anang program. Jenny also works with the Learning & Community team at Hart House and is the recipient of a 2019 IDERD award.
Graham Giniw Paradis
Graham Giniw Paradis (he/him) is Michif/Wiisaakodewin from Penetanguishene with ancestral ties to Lesser Slave Lake, AB and the Red River Settlement. He is a citizen of the Metis Nation of Ontario. Giniw has been beading since 2012 as a self-taught artist and started mentoring under Naomi Smith (Chippewas of Nawash, Neyaashiinigmiing Unceded Territory) in 2014. His beadwork and quillwork have been featured in museums nationally and internationally.
Kaya Joan is a multi-disciplinary Afro-Indigenous artist living in T’karonto (Dish with One Spoon treaty territory). Kaya’s work focuses on placemaking, non-linear temporality and blood memory. Afro and Indigenous futurity and pedagogy are also centred in Kaya’s practice-working through buried truths to explore how creation can heal 7 generations into the past and future. Kaya has been working in community arts for 6 years as a facilitator and artist.Website
Keitha Keeshig-Tobias a.k.a. Keitha Keeshig-Tobias Biizindam
My name is Keitha Keeshig-Tobias Biizindam (She who listens and learns and uses what she hears) a very versatile modern artist based in Toronto. I am Delaware Nation from Moraviantown and Anishnaabe from Neyaashiinigamiing Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. I am a Contemporary Indigenous Artist specializing in bringing forth complex issues and inspiration with beauty and grace. My style N8V-Nouveau incorporates science, history, current affairs, empathy, and gracefulness in its meanings while expanding out into multiple medias like paintings, murals, jewelry/textile beadwork My favourite medium is dipped pen and ink, especially blue ink and my inkwork is the basis for many of my other works.Website
Prof. Isaiah Walker
Professor and Academic Vice President, Brigham Young University, Hawaii
Isaiah Walker was born and raised in Keaukaha, Hilo, Hawaiʻi. He studies Hawaiian history and colonialism from a unique perspective, from the vantage of Hawaiian surfers. His work analyzes the history of surfing, resistance, and masculinity in Hawai‘i. Contending that the ocean surfing realm was a sanctuary and borderland for Hawaiians, his research creatively analyzes a space where Hawaiians were empowered and colonial hierarchies were often turned upside down. He is currently a professor and department chair in the History Department at BYU-Hawai'i, where he teaches World, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islands history.Website
Naulaq LeDrew is originally from Apex Hill, Nunavut on Baffin Island. She comes from a large family of 9 children and has grown up traditionally with her parents who raised her in 2 worlds, European society and Inuit culture ways. She is married to Randall and between them they have 7 adult children and 12 grandchildren. Naulaq is Inuit knowledge keeper for Toronto Inuit Association (TIA). She contributes her time with other organizations to open their events and meetings. She also had done throat singing and drum dancing for the organizations.Website
Mike Ormsby a.k.a. W’ DAE B' WAE
Mike Ormsby is a Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist, his late mother's family is from Curve Lake First Nation. He signs his work as W’ DAE B' WAE, his Anishinaabe name meaning "he or she is telling the truth, is right, is correct, is accurate." Mike hopes his art speaks to that truth, telling the stories of the Anishinaabe, sharing the culture and traditions. But the truth in his art may also be different for others. What Mike sees in his art may differ from what others see; his art may speak to them differently. Art is healing, a window into the soul; a way to better understand ourselves and each other. To know where one is going, one must know when one has come from.Website