Moccasin Identifier Project making strides for truth and reconciliation

As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, children are painting moccasins all over the interior of the Halton Hills Public Library to promote public awareness of significant cultural historic sites and the ancestral presence of First Nations, Métis and Indigenous communities.

The Moccasin Identifier Project aims “to cover Ontario in moccasins that reflect the traditional Indigenous Peoples who resided here and do currently reside here,” Dani Austin, child services librarian at Halton Hills Public Library, said.

The project was created in 2011 by Carolyn King, former elected chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, but launched in 2019 in partnership with Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation and the Ontario Greenbelt Foundation.

Austin said the Moccasin Identifier Project is really special to the Halton Hills library because in 2019, it was approached to be part of the pilot project and received the first project kit to use.

Each project kit includes four stencils designed by Indigenous artist Philip Cote to paint the historical moccasins of the Anishinaabe, Huron-Wendat, Seneca and Cree, the four dominant First Nations groups in Ontario, as well as paint and instructions for delivering the program.

“After participating in the pilot program in 2019, we were able to offer the program outdoors when we were closed for COVID, and now that the Moccasin Identifier has updated their kits, which are now available for purchase to the public, we are able to continue to offer the program by purchasing the kits,” Austin said.

The Halton Hills Public Library also has kits for circulation, which is “really cool,” Austin said. “Patrons can check them out of the library, take them home and use the stencils themselves to support their learning surrounding truth and reconciliation and treaties here in Ontario.”

Austin said because the library lacks the staff to authentically lead First Nations programming, “it’s great to be given this package with all the supports and resources so we can educate our community in a way that is respectful, honouring and authentic. We know that all the information is correct because of the process that the kits went through.”

The project engages different people, Austin said, taking the kits to both seniors residences and Grade 1 through Grade 8 classrooms. “Whether they are stenciling the moccasin on the glass in our library or on paper themselves or out on the sidewalk using biodegradable paint, it’s a really great way to have our community engage, talk and learn about treaties.”

The stencil kit is also available for educators. Those who buy a kit have access to all the project’s education resources, which complement the Ontario curriculum, Austin said.

While it is cute to see kids get really excited when painting, Austin said, it’s also educational. “Kids take such care with the colours that they select and the way they are filling out their stencil. It’s really beautiful to see them pause and take a moment, seeing them engage at a developmentally appropriate level with treaty learning; that really is the best part.”

Nairah Ahmed, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer