Back to top

06.29.21 – M.Arch student James Bird, a residential school survivor, shares moments from Indigenous History Month

James Bird holds many titles: he is a knowledge keeper from the Nehiyawak nation and Dene Nation, a Master of Architecture student at the Daniels Faculty, a member of U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission steering committee, as well as other national honours and awards, and a residential school survivor.

As we reflect on Indigenous History Month, Bird kindly shared snapshots from events with the Lieutenant Governor's Office, as well as film and exhibition recommendations to inspire further learning — not just during one month of the year, but for continued commitment moving forward.

Sunrise Ceremony with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office 

Tune in to TVO on July 1 to see Bird give the Opening Prayer during a Sunrise Ceremony with the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.  

“[A Sunrise Ceremony] is a time to welcome goodness into the world and move our collective intentions to kindness,” said Bird. “In the light of each new day brings a new beginning for the time in the sky for that day, and beyond.” Considering the TRC, and as a residential school survivor, Bird said: “As we move into these difficult times, let us all remember our collective humanity and move gently on Mother Earth.”

Chapel Royal Tobacco Gardens on National Indigenous Peoples Day 

In recognition of National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, Bird co-hosted a luncheon and tour with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office at The Chapel Royal Tobacco Gardens. The Chapel Royal Tobacco Gardens are part of U of T Massey College where Bird is a junior fellow.  

“We [Indigenous Peoples of Canada] have a direct connection to the Crown through Treaty — it is with the use of sacred tobacco that this relationship is reinforced,” said Bird, who is also the Keeper of the Chapel Royal Gardens as approved by Chief and Council.

In Anishinaabek, The Chapel Royal at Massey College is called Gi-Chi-Twaa Gimaa Kwe Mississauga Anishinaabek AName Amik (The Queen’s Anishinaabek Sacred Place). Three of the Chapels Royal located outside the United Kingdom are located in Ontario. Notably, each of these Canadian chapels is distinguished by an Indigenous affiliation, which demonstrates the direct connection between Indigenous nations and the Crown. Learn more about The Chapel Royal at Massey College here.

Watch From Earth to Sky, a documentary film that profiles the lives of Indigenous architects 

From Earth to Sky, a new TVO Original documentary from director Ron Chapman, profiles the lives and work of accomplished Indigenous architects from across Turtle Island.  Each architect defines their individuality through artistry, and bond in their philosophy of how to protect the planet — including Douglas Cardinal, the 2020-2021 Gehry Chair, and Alfred Waugh, a featured speaker in the Daniels 2021 lecture series, as well as architects Brian Porter, Patrick Stewart, Tammy Eagle Bull, Wanda Dalla Costa, and Daniel Glenn.  

The film culminates as they travel to the Venice Biennale of Architecture to present, for the first time, Indigenous Architecture from North America in a spectacular installation (in which Bird participated).  From Earth to Sky is available to stream for free on and the TVO YouTube channel. 

Learn about the history of treaty-making in the “Canada By Treaty” exhibition 

Canada by Treaty logo

In 2017, Bird partnered with Heidi Bohaker and Laurie Bertram, a pair of U of T history professors, to create "Canada by Treaty: Negotiating Histories," a travelling exhibition that explains Canada's history of treaty-making with Indigenous peoples. The exhibition explains some of the ways Canada has historically failed to live up to the spirit of its treaty obligations — particularly through its residential school policy. 

"On the one hand, the government was signing treaties, but at the same time it was apprehending children and putting them into residential schools," James says. "We have this history of two stories being told: one of agreeing to land settlements, and the other of taking away Indigenous language and culture. It's a story of giving with one hand and taking with the other." 

When pandemic restrictions closed the exhibition early, the Daniels Faculty helped transform the display panels into a website. View the exhibition here:

Photography for the Sunrise Ceremony and Tobacco Gardens events courtesy the Office of the Lieutenant Governor (Joe Segal).